BACKGROUND--The burden and determinants of airway disease in the population of southern Africa, which is currently undergoing rapid, often uncontrolled, urbanisation and industrialisation, are unknown. Previous surveys have focused on specific occupational groups and few have included women. This paper describes the respiratory status in a 30% probability sample of 206 men and 203 women drawn from an urban black Johannesburg workforce of almost 1500, all working for an educational institution. METHODS--Subjects answered a respiratory questionnaire and performed spirometric tests. Symptom rates and age and height standardised forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), FEV1/FVC%, and forced expiratory flow (FEF25-75) were analysed by gender in relation to smoking, past work exposures, past and recent respiratory conditions, and socioeconomic indicators. RESULTS--Symptom prevalence was high, bronchitic symptoms in men being related to smoking and previous occupational exposure, and in women to smoking despite the low intensity of their habit. Phlegm and wheezing were related to childhood respiratory illness in both men and women. FVC and FEV1, based on all subjects including smokers, were higher than previously reported for black residents of southern Africa. FVC was also positively related to education and job category. Higher values for ever smokers than for never smokers suggested health selection into the habit, while significant negative smoking effects were seen only on FEV1/FVC% and only in women. CONCLUSIONS--Despite the high prevalence of symptoms--some smoking related--in this urban workforce, lung function levels were higher than previously reported in African blacks, and may reflect improving socioeconomic conditions.
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