Animal Disease and Human Health Risk
The Risk of Human Association with Animals
Other than risks from eating animal products, are there hazards merely from working with
animals? The answer is yes. Dairy farmers, veterinarians, and meat handlers have
significantly increased rates of a number of serious diseases, as listed in Figure 24:
Diseases Associated with the Handling of Animals.132
Although farmers have exposure to pesticides and chemicals, many of the research articles
focus on the possibility of exposure to cancer-inducing viruses as being a factor.133
Often the settings in which animals are raised are so unhealthful that humans working in
those situations are more susceptible to illness. Specific categories of livestock workers
are also exposed to unique risks. For example, because pigs are usually raised in enclosed
"factory houses," hog farmers may develop a variety of respiratory ailments from their work
in these closed buildings. Studies show that nearly half of those working in such enclosed
buildings (pig or chicken) complain of bronchitis, asthma-like conditions, inflamed sinuses,
or flu-like illnesses.134, 135 This has been attributed to breathing dust and gasses from
pig feces and urine. Confined employees in poultry farms have similar respiratory problems.136
Perhaps the area of greatest occupational concern relates to those who work in
slaughterhouses and meat packing plants. A recent study looked at some 10,000 of such
individuals over a period of nine years.137 The results revealed an excess risk of all
cancers combined. A number of specific cancers were also increased. These included:
cancer of the lung, cancer of the mouth and throat (buccal cavity and pharynx), and
cancers of the esophagus (the swallowing tube), colon, bladder, kidney, and bone. The
increases in risk were often impressive. Hodgkin's disease deaths were increased six-fold,
mortality from other lymphomas was tripled, and leukemia deaths were more than doubled.
The investigators raised the question as to whether such increases could be related to exposure
to BLV and other cancer-inducing viruses. Their research leaves us with serious concerns
about the possibility of occupational risk to such workers.
A More Complete List of Human Diseases Contracted from Animals
The information in this chapter has provided appreciable evidence regarding the serious nature
of disease in animals and the risk to humans. However, I have only touched the surface of an
extremely broad subject. Dozens more pages could have been included that deal with the
toxicologic and infectious diseases that are increased by eating animal products or having
contact with animals. If I were making a more complete list of animal-related conditions
that affect humans, it would include all of those listed in Figure 25: Other Diseases and
Conditions Associated with Eating Animal Products or Exposure to Animals.138
132 Blair, A Dosemeci M, Heineman EF. Cancer and other causes of death among male and female
farmers from twenty-three states. Am J Ind Med 1993 May;23(5):729-742.
133 Johnson ES. Mortality among non white men in the meat industry. J Occup Med 1989 Mar
134 Donham KJ, Merchant JA, et al. Preventing respiratory disease in swine confinement workers:
intervention through applied epidemiology, education, and consultation. Am J Ind Med 1990;18(3):
135 Zuskin E, Mustajbegovic J, et. al, Respiratory function in poultry workers and pharmacologic
characterization of poultry dust extract. Environ Res 1995 Jul; 70(1): 11-19.
136 Pedersen B, Iversen M, et al. Pig farmers have signs of bronchial inflammation and increased
numbers of lymphocytes and neutrophils in BAL fluid. Eur Respir J 1996 Mar;9(3):524-530.
137 Johnson ES, Dalmas D, et al. Cancer mortality among workers in abattoirs and meat packing
plants: an update. Am J Ind Med 1995 Mar;27(3):389-403.
138 Outbreak of trichinellosis associated with eating cougar jerky--Idaho, 1995. MMWR Morb
Mortal Wkly Rep 1996 Mar 15;45(10):205-206.
Notice of Credit
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