The fluctuant nature of precipitating antibodies in dairy farmers.


Four hundred and forty five of 888 dairy farmers studied in an epidemiological survey four years previously were restudied to determine change in precipitins and in clinical features. Subjects answered the same questionnaire, which was filled in by the same nurse in the same winter months, and had blood withdrawn for precipitin analysis (double diffusion technique). Of the 445 subjects retested, 48 (10.8%) had been precipitin positive at the first study; of these, 34 remained positive four years later and 14 had reverted to negative. Twenty eight subjects previously negative for precipitins had become positive, so that 62 subjects in all were precipitin positive when restudied (13.9%). Of the 445 farmers, 369 were precipitin negative at both studies. The prevalence of symptoms, including cough, sputum production, wheezing, dyspnoea, and fever and chills, was similar for subjects who were consistently negative for precipitins and consistently positive and for those who changed from one to the other. Only one subject developed farmer's lung; he had precipitins in both studies. This study shows a fluctuation in the precipitin state of dairy farmers, suggesting that more farmers have precipitins at least once in their lifetime than are identified by screening at a single point in time. Relatively few develop farmer's lung or other respiratory symptoms. The presence of precipitins in a symptomless farmer appears to have no clinical importance.

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