Research Improves Health Outcomes of Agricultural Workers

Source: CS-CASH

Source: CS-CASH

Spotlight on Research at COPH – Improving health outcomes, reducing injuries, and reducing deaths in the agricultural sector are all aims of the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH). CS-CASH supports research, intervention, education, and outreach activities in the Midwest region and beyond as a part of the Department of Environmental, Agricultural, Occupational Health in the UNMC College of Public Health. Each year, CS-CASH funds pilot projects that address emerging issues or that propose novel approaches to solving the problems of high fatality, injury, and chronic condition rates in agriculture. Two pilot projects that address these concerns are the Migrant Farmworker Health Survey led by Athena Ramos and a project led by Dr. Tricia Levan that examines the types of bacteria present in the lungs of patients who have been exposed to agricultural dust.

The purpose of the Migrant Farmworker Health Survey is to develop baseline information on the health of Latino migrant farmworkers in Nebraska and to understand the migratory pattern of Latino migrant farmworkers. Migrant farmworkers are an extremely vulnerable population as they are constantly on the move, exposed to harsh weather conditions, socially isolated due to language and location, economically disadvantaged, lacking formal education, and lacking a consistent source of health care. There is no recent information regarding the migrant farmworker experience in Nebraska. The research team collected information from 200 participants across five central Nebraska counties over the summer of 2013. The team found high levels of stress and depression. In fact, 30.5% of participants had high levels of stress and 45.8% were depressed. Creating more welcoming communities and enhancing health outreach services for workers may help in combating feelings of social isolation and depression. Addressing mental health issues is a significant factor for worker health and safety as well as the well-being of rural, agricultural communities in Nebraska.

Dr. Tricia Levan’s project examines the type (diversity) of bacteria present in the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A comparison of the bacteria will be made between COPD patients who have had exposure to agricultural dust versus those who have not been exposed as well as comparison with subjects who do not have COPD. Analysis of the bacteria is currently underway. Breakthroughs in understanding the types of bacteria that infect the lungs of farmers and ranchers after exposure to agricultural dust will lead to better treatments and outcomes.

Athena Ramos, MS, MBA, CPM, is the program coordinator of the UNMC COPH Center for Reducing Health Disparities. Tricia Levan, PhD, is an associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Epidemiology.