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RR608 - Estimating the prevalence and incidence of pesticide-related illness presented to General Practitioners in Great Britain

The aim of this study was to investigate the nature and extent of pesticide-related illness presenting to and diagnosed by General Practitioners (GPs). A screening checklist was completed by GPs for patients over the age of 18. Patients were classified as eligible for a detailed interview if: exposure was specifically mentioned by patients; there were serious acute symptoms; the patient had newly occurring flu type, respiratory, gastrointestinal, skin, eye or acute neurological symptoms and the GP thought that symptoms were not definitely not related to pesticide exposure.

Checklists were completed for 59320 patients from 43 practices and 1335 interviews were carried out. The annual prevalence and incidence of illness reported to GPs because of concern about pesticide exposure were 0.07% and 0.04% respectively (42 and 24 patients). The annual prevalence and incidence of consultations where symptoms were diagnosed by GPs as likely to be related to pesticide exposure were 0.01% and 0.003% respectively, with estimates of prevalence and incidence of symptoms possibly related to pesticide-related symptoms being 2.7% and 1.64%. Although small these estimates give relatively large number of consultations annually. Limited information on actual chemicals and active ingredients of pesticides restricted the study’s ability to establish a definite causal relationship between pesticide exposure and symptoms.

There was widespread use of pesticides in the home environment but unsatisfactory use of product labels and precautionary measures, and storage and disposal of pesticides were also poor. Among the patients who were interviewed, the risk of patients being categorised by their GP as having symptoms possibly compared to unlikely to be related to pesticide exposure was associated with home use of pesticides and also with change of use of several other chemicals in the home in the week before the consultation.

The amount of data and the effort required to obtain it suggests that it would not be feasible to use the same methods more generally in GB for monitoring pesticide related illness reported and diagnosed in Primary Care.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2010-03-19