OBJECTIVES: Agricultural workers are known to have occupational skin diseases. The prevalence and pattern of skin diseases are unknown in Taiwanese fruit farmers. The objective of this study is to determine the work exposure, prevalence of skin diseases, and sensitivity to common skin allergens and agricultural chemicals in fruit farmers of southern Taiwan. METHODS: 122 fruit farmers who regularly prepared and sprayed pesticides and a group of 63 printing press workers with no known exposure to pesticides were examined and patch tested with common skin allergens and agricultural chemicals. The farmers were also interviewed for their work habits, use of protective clothing, and exposure to pesticides. RESULTS: Most farmers reported regular use of hat, boots, and mask, but not gloves, raincoat, and goggles. This resulted in frequent skin contact with pesticides especially on the hands and face. About 30% of farmers had hand dermatitis, and more than two thirds had pigmentation and thickening on the hands. Fungal infection of the skin was noted in a quarter of subjects. By patch test, farmers and the printing press workers had a similar rate of sensitivity to common skin allergens. 40% of farmers were sensitive to agricultural chemical allergens, which was about twofold higher than that of the comparison group. Farmers were most frequently sensitive to Captofol, Folpet, and Captan which were associated with dermatitis on the volar aspects of the hands. CONCLUSIONS: Fruit farmers in southern Taiwan had a high prevalence of skin diseases related to use of pesticides, and appropriate protective measures and work practices should be taken to prevent such problems.
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