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Hispanic Farmworkers at High Risk for Skin Disease

Skin disease affects more than three out of four Hispanic farmworkers in North Carolina, researchers say, highlighting the need for those workers to get more information on preventing skin ailments, including skin cancer.

A team at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., conducted two studies including a total of 89 farmworkers.

They found that "farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to diseases of the skin and have the highest incidence of skin disorders of any industry," lead researcher Thomas Arcury, professor of family medicine, said in a prepared statement. "These workers represent a medically underserved population that is at risk for both environmental and occupational health problems, as well as health problems associated with poverty," he said.

The findings appear in the May issue of the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health and in the April issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

The first study included five female farmworkers and 54 male workers. All five females and 78 percent of the males had some form of skin disease. Among males, the most common conditions were nail fungus, foot fungus and acne, while excessively dry skin, foot fungus and acne were among the conditions diagnosed in the females.

"While these may not be a direct result of farm work, it is likely a result of resources and living environment," Arcury said.

He noted that the farmworkers usually have to share shower facilities and often have limited access to laundry facilities and detergents.

In the second study, researchers interviewed 30 farmworkers to learn more about their knowledge about skin disease. Even though they spend so much time outdoors, few of the farm workers mentioned skin cancer as a potential health problem. The interviews also revealed a common belief among the workers that an individual's susceptibility determines whether they're affected by a skin condition.

"Farmworkers do not acknowledge several skin diseases that should be of great concern, including skin cancer. And personal susceptibility is used to differentiate one's self from others, usually to show superiority," Arcury said.

Any programs designed to reduce occupational skin diseases among farmworkers must challenge these beliefs.

"First, the notion that it affects only those who are susceptible needs to be dispelled. Second, the delayed effects of some risk factors, such as sunlight exposure, need to be stressed," Arcury said.

Yahoo HealthDay News, May 12, 2006

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