Occupational exposure to airborne microorganisms, endotoxins and β-glucans in poultry houses at different stages of the production cycle.
Previous studies have demonstrated that poultry house workers are exposed to very high levels of organic dust and consequently have an increased prevalence of adverse respiratory symptoms. However, the influence of the age of broilers on bioaerosol concentrations has not been investigated. To evaluate the evolution of bioaerosol concentration during the fattening period, bioaerosol parameters (inhalable dust, endotoxin and bacteria) were measured in 12 poultry confinement buildings in Switzerland, at three different stages of the birds' growth; samples of air taken from within the breathing zones of individual poultry house employees as they caught the chickens ready to be transported for slaughter were also analysed. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (Q-PCR) was used to assess the quantity of total airborne bacteria and total airborne Staphylococcus species. Bioaerosol levels increased significantly during the fattening period of the chickens. During the task of catching mature birds, the mean inhalable dust concentration for a worker was 26 +/- 1.9 mg m(-3) and endotoxin concentration was 6198 +/- 2.3 EU m(-3) air, >6-fold higher than the Swiss occupational recommended value (1000 EU m(-3)). The mean exposure level of bird catchers to total bacteria and Staphylococcus species measured by Q-PCR is also very high, respectively, reaching values of 53 (+/-2.6) x 10(7) cells m(-3) air and 62 (+/-1.9) x 10(6) m(-3) air. It was concluded that in the absence of wearing protective breathing apparatus, chicken catchers in Switzerland risk exposure beyond recommended limits for all measured bioaerosol parameters. Moreover, the use of Q-PCR to estimate total and specific numbers of airborne bacteria is a promising tool for evaluating any modifications intended to improve the safety of current working practices.