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  1. P. C. Elwood*,
  2. J. Pemberton,
  3. J. D. Merrett,
  4. G. C. R. Carey,
  5. I. R. McAulay
  1. aDepartment of Social and Preventive Medicine, The Queen's University of Belfast


    A study of byssinosis and other respiratory symptoms in 2,528 flax workers aged 35 years and over in Northern Ireland is reported. This represented 82·5% of the total available population. Only 3% of workers were not seen because of absence or a refusal to co-operate. Workers were interviewed using a questionnaire based on the Questionnaire on Respiratory Symptoms (Medical Research Council, 1960a) with additional questions relating to respiratory symptoms at work.

    Byssinosis was found in workers in all stages of the industry, though its prevalence was highest in flax preparers; wet spinners and wet polishers did not appear to be at serious risk of developing the condition. When the effects of other relevant factors had been allowed for, e.g., age, duration of employment, and smoking habits, differences between the prevalence in the two sexes were found to be very small. The associations between byssinosis and the age of workers and their durations of employment in flax-preparing occupations were complex, and it was thought that a selective discharge of affected workers before the study might, in part at least, explain the absence of marked associations between these variables.

    Marked associations were found between both chronic bronchitis and exertional dyspnoea and the type of occupation in the mill. Workers in the early preparing occupations had a considerably higher prevalence of these conditions than expected on a null hypothesis. There were also marked associations between byssinosis and bronchitis, and between byssinosis and dyspnoea. The possible importance of these associations with regard to the aetiology of byssinosis is discussed, and it is suggested that byssinosis represents an acute, specific effect of certain textile dusts on the respiratory system, superimposed on a non-specific chronic bronchitic process.

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    • * Now at the Medical Research Council Epidemiological Research Unit, South Wales.