May day is a day to remember the workers whose work forms the basic framework of any community. All are important and equally necessary for any society, but farmers should be considered indispensable. One can do without every other amenity, but not without food produced by farmers.
It would be worthwhile to ponder over the health hazards of the cultivators who feed the entire humanity by producing and distributing food for all.
One of the risks to which farmers are exposed is trauma by sharp or blunt objects encountered in the fields and resultant infections. They are at greater risk of developing tetanus as they are exposed to wounds by objects contaminated with mud/dust containing germs of tetanus. Due to ignorance or lack of resources, they may not seek immediate medical attention and may even die from tetanus.
They work mostly in the open and many times in a damp environment. This makes them more vulnerable to chronic fungal infections, skin disorders like eczema.
Due to various farming situations, incidence of various respiratory problems is high in farmers. As a result of exposure to dust of various kinds and smoke, about 70% of farmers suffer from chronic obstructive lung diseases. This causes them to suffer from chronic cough and breathlessness, which in turn reduces their ability to work. Those prone to bronchial asthma, suffer from recurrent attacks or chronic asthma. Smoking, burning of charcoal for cooking within the house add to the problem. Chronic lung damage makes them more vulnerable to infections of lungs like tuberculosis. It also increases risk of lung cancer.
A variety of disabling gases including nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide, methane, are produced during routine procedures in farming. Exposure to low levels of these gases produces dizziness, drowsiness and headache. Many pesticides and chemical fertilizers are used to keep the crops safe from pests and increase their yield. Farmers are exposed to them, either directly through skin contact or by inhalation. These cause irritation of the eyes and lungs, precipitate asthma and or eczema. These chemicals are also known to cause cancers like some leukemia, lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, e.t.c.
Farm work involves working in close proximity with animals. Many animals like cattle, sheep, dogs are kept close to the homes and many pests like rats exist around and within houses. This increases the risk of diseases which are spread from animals to humans like toxoplasmosis, brucellosis, leptospirosis, rickettseal infections, e.t.c.
Increasing use of machines of various kinds in farming, exposes farmers to excess noise. This makes them vulnerable to health hazards of excess noise like dizziness, tinnitus and even hearing loss.
Farm work is done entirely in open, thus farmers have to be present for long hours in hot sun. They are thus exposed to problems due to hot sun like dizziness, dehydration, sun burn, e.t.c.
Considering these health hazards, it is necessary for them to be educated about it and how to prevent them. Keeping nose covered by masks or respirators helps to prevent inhalation of dust and or fumes and gases of toxic chemicals. Good personal hygiene, particularly hand washing is also very beneficial in removing potential contaminants from the hands and body. It also reduces risk of acquiring infection from animals.
They should be taught to give due attention to injuries, howsoever minor. Immediate first aid should be sought. Tetanus vaccination done at the earliest helps to prevent tetanus and keeps one safe from tetanus for at least one year. Smoking should be avoided due to its multiple health hazards. A healthy, balanced diet helps to keep the body healthy and improve the ability to fight diseases.
Dr Rachna Pande, Specialist, internal medicine