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Symptoms of Heat Illness Among Latino Farm Workers in North Carolina

  • Maria C. Mirabelli
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Maria C. Mirabelli, PhD, MPH, Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, Division of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem NC 27157-1063
    Affiliations
    Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, Division of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

    Center for Worker Health, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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  • Sara A. Quandt
    Affiliations
    Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, Division of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

    Center for Worker Health, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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  • Rebecca Crain
    Affiliations
    Department of Family and Community Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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  • Joseph G. Grzywacz
    Affiliations
    Department of Family and Community Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

    Center for Worker Health, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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  • Erin N. Robinson
    Affiliations
    Department of Family and Community Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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  • Quirina M. Vallejos
    Affiliations
    Department of Family and Community Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

    Center for Worker Health, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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  • Thomas A. Arcury
    Affiliations
    Department of Family and Community Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

    Center for Worker Health, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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      Background

      Symptoms of occupational heat illness provide an early warning that workers are in potentially life-threatening environmental conditions.

      Purpose

      This analysis was designed to assess the extent to which strategies to reduce the health impact of extreme heat were associated with the prevalence of heat illness among Latino farm workers.

      Methods

      Between June and September 2009, a total of 300 Latino men and women participated in a cross-sectional survey about farm worker health. Participants reported whether they were employed through the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program and whether they had ever worked in conditions of extreme heat during their work in the U.S. agricultural industry. Workers who had worked in extreme heat also responded to questions about selected activities and behaviors and whether they experienced symptoms of heat illness. Data analysis was conducted in 2009 to assess associations of altering work hours and activities, drinking more water, resting in shaded areas, and going to air-conditioned places during or after work, with the prevalence of symptoms of heat illness among H-2A and non–H-2A workers.

      Results

      Working in extreme heat was reported by 281 respondents (94%), among whom 112 (40%) reported symptoms of heat illness. Changes in work hours and activities during hot conditions were associated with a lower prevalence of heat illness among H-2A workers but not among non–H-2A workers.

      Conclusions

      These findings suggest the need to improve the understanding of working conditions for farm workers and to assess strategies to reduce agricultural workers' environmental heat exposure.
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