Health effects among individuals living in proximity of livestock farms: ‘VGO study’ (Dutch Acronym for the study ‘veehouderij en gezondheid omwonenden’)

The ‘VGO’ study investigates effects on human health of exposure emissions from livestock producing farms in the Netherlands. The background is that livestock farming may lead to emission of particulates which contain endotoxins, infectious agents or micro-organisms which are resistant against antimicrobials. These agents might be associated with elevated health risks for humans. The study started because of concerns after emergence of certain resistant strains (MRSA ST398 and ESBL producting E.coli) and observation of the largest space-time cluster of Q-fever with more than 4500 cases in 2009 in the Netherlands. This triggered further research into the health risks of exposure to these and other micro-organisms and their toxins.

The ‘VGO’ study is conducted by a consortium (in alphabetic order) of different research institutes (IRAS Utrecht University; NIVEL, Utrecht; RIVM Bilthoven; WUR, Wageningen) and comprises studies on respiratory health effects, infectious disease resulting from exposure to livestock associated microbial exposure, carriage of micro-organisms which are resistant against anti-microbial agents. The latter micro-organisms circulate in livestock herds of different species because of the veterinary usage of antimicrobials.

Disease morbidity is being monitored by use of electronic General Practitioner monitoring systems, in a population of approximately 90000 individuals from a region in the South East of the Netherlands with a high density of livestock operations. 

Of this source population, more than 25000 have been sent a questionnaire and more than 15000 responded. From these 15000, a sample of 2500 individuals has been invited for a detailed medical survey. IRAS UU is responsible for completion of the medical survey, evaluation of respiratory effects (spirometry, serology, symptoms) and has set up a sampling network with 60 measurement sites at which PM10 levels are being measured. PM10 will be analyzed for endotoxins and a range of microbial molecular targets (resistance genes, specific species). The first results will become available at the end of 2015. 

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