A Comprehensive Survey of Occupational Health Issues of Women Working on Dairy Farms in Pennsylvania

Open Access
Fenton, Ginger D.
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 11, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Bhushan M Jayarao, Dissertation Advisor
  • Bhushan M Jayarao, Committee Chair
  • Subhashinie Kariyawasam, Committee Member
  • Robert John Vansaun, Committee Member
  • Kathryn Jo Brasier, Committee Member
  • Rama B Radhakrishna, Committee Member
  • David R Wolfgang, Committee Member
  • George F Henning, Committee Member
  • survey
  • occupational health
  • dairy farm
  • airborne bacteria
  • antibiotic resistance
Women play a significant role in Pennsylvania production agriculture, thereby potentially exposing them to occupational health risks. This cross-sectional study sought to assess the incidence of health conditions with a possible zoonotic origin in this underserved population. A written survey was sent to a stratified, random sample of dairy farms in Pennsylvania (n = 3709). In addition to providing demographic data, the survey respondents (n = 624) reported a low incidence of gastrointestinal illnesses, while respiratory problems which were reported by about 10%, were associated with lack of use of a breathing mask, and dermatoses, the most commonly reported conditions, were associated with growing fruits and/or vegetables, raising swine, and not wearing gloves. The use of personal protective equipment was infrequent. Most respondents, 89.7%, indicated that they felt they had minimal to no risk of contracting a disease from the animals with which they worked. The findings of the study suggest that many of the illnesses and conditions could have been acquired by working with dairy animals and their environment. Based on the findings of this study, additional investigations on the causes and prevention of these illnesses are warranted. Environmental bio-aerosol and personal air samples were collected on dairy farms with milking parlors in Pennsylvania (n = 40). The average final total bacterial count ranged from 2.551 to 4.435 log10 CFU/m3. The final total bacterial counts, Staphylococcal counts, presumptive Staphylococcus aureus counts, and Enterobacteriaceae counts were significantly different from the baseline counts. No correlations were observed between selected parlor variables including temperature and relative humidity and bacterial counts, however correlations were observed between the rate of cows milked per minute and Staphylococcal counts using the personal air sampler. Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella spp. were not recovered from air, therefore the occupational hazard resulting from airborne exposure to these bacteria is uncertain. Species of Staphylococci including S. warneri, S. hominis, S. xylosus, S. capitis, S. sciuri, S. lentus, S. cohnii ssp. cohnii, S. auricularis, and S. chromogenes that were resistant to oxacillin and/or clarithromycin were recovered from the air.