Determinants of endotoxin levels in living environments of farmers' children and their peers from rural areas


Marco Waser, Environmental and Health Department, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Basel, Steinengraben 49, CH-4051 Basel, Switzerland.


Background Lower frequencies of asthma and hayfever have been observed in children with contact to livestock. At school age, the amount of endotoxin measured in the dust of children's mattresses is inversely related to the occurrence of atopic asthma, hayfever and atopic sensitization both in children from farming and non-farming households.

Objective The aim of the present study was to investigate which home and lifestyle characteristics of farm and non-farm families contribute to endotoxin levels measured in different indoor home environments.

Methods In the framework of the Allergy and Endotoxin (ALEX) Study, endotoxin was measured in dust samples from the living room floor and the child's mattress of 319 farmers' families and 493 non-farming families, and in settled dust from stables. Endotoxin content of all dust samples was determined by a kinetic Limulus assay (Limulus-Amebocyte-Lysate test). Information about the child's activities on farms, home characteristics and cleaning behaviours was obtained from parental questionnaires.

Results Endotoxin levels in stables did not predict the amount of endotoxin measured in floors or mattresses. However, a dose-dependent association between the child's activity on the farm and indoor home endotoxin levels was observed, both in farm and non-farm children. In non-farm children pet keeping and the frequency of floor cleaning were additionally associated with endotoxin levels, whereas in farm children parental farm activities, study area, time since last cleaning, the mattress type as well as younger age of the children contributed to increased microbial exposure.

Conclusion These results demonstrate that regular contact to farm animals increases indoor home endotoxin concentrations, both in farm and non-farm children, and might thus explain the protective effect of contact to livestock on atopic outcomes. To assess children's individual exposure to a microbial environment, measures of mattress dust exposure are needed as stable endotoxin concentrations were not associated with indoor home levels.