16 June 2017

Press Release

Pneumonia more common near livestock and poultry farms

People who live near poultry and goat farms more often contract pneumonia. Within the research area, approximately 1650 people out of 100,000 inhabitants contract pneumonia annually. Over 200 pneumonia cases are connected to living near poultry farms and goat farms.

This is shown in supplemental surveys and the large-scale research project Cattle farming and the health of those living nearby (Dutch name: Veehouderij en de gezondheid van omwonenden, VGO)

Poultry farms

People who live up to 1 kilometre from a poultry farm more often contract pneumonia. On average, 119 out of the 200 additional cases of pneumonia related to cattle farms can be attributed to poultry farms. These additional cases of pneumonia are probably caused by fine particles and endotoxins. These small particles irritate the airways, which makes people more susceptible to pneumonia.

Goat farms

People near goat farms also contract pneumonia more often. This increase can be seen in all researched years from 2009 up to and including 2013. Of the over 200 additional cases of pneumonia related to living near cattle farms, an average of 89 can be found to be related to living near goat farms. It is as of yet unclear what causes these cases of pneumonia. However, it is already clear that the Q-fever epidemic does not explain the increased risk since 2011. To the best of our knowledge, goat farms emit few fine particles and endotoxins. More research is needed to discover the specific causes of this increase. Only then can company-specific measures be undertaken.

Confirmation of earlier results

The results in this new research are based on other, often more extensive analyses, which has resulted in the researchers being more certain of the correlations. Other results from the VGO are:

  • People who live near cattle farms are less exposed to asthma and allergies.
  • Fewer people with COPD live near cattle farms, but these people do have more serious symptoms and use more medication.
  • People with many cattle farms near their homes can have slightly reduced lung function.
  • People in the entire research area have reduced lung function when the ammonia concentration in the air is high. So this is independent of the distance to the cattle farm. Ammonia comes from manure.
  • Hepatitis-E viral infections and the resistant bacteria Clostridium dificille and ESBL-producing bacteria are not more common among people who live near cattle farms.


The research project VGO started in 2013. It utilised the anonymous data of 110,000 patients of general practitioners, of over 14,000 completed questionnaires on airway symptoms, and almost 2,500 people have participated in health tests. In these tests, people completed questionnaires and their blood, lung function and excrement were tested. It is the first time in the world that such a survey was set up on such a large scale. The research was commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Within VGO, researchers from the RIVM, Utrecht University (IRAS), Wageningen UR (CVI and WLR) and NIVEL collaborated with each other. The IRAS of Utrecht University was responsible for the medical research and the evaluations of people's lung function. It also supervised the fine-particle measurements that were done in the area.

Professor of Environmental Epidemiology Dick Heederik says: “The results in this new research project are based on other, often more extensive analyses, which has resulted in us being more certain of the correlations that were found earlier. Besides other results, we are seeing that pneumonia is more common near poultry and goat farms. More research is needed to discover the specific causes of this increase.” The new results confirm earlier results of VGO in 2016.