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Long term outcome of soybean epidemic asthma after an allergen reduction intervention


BACKGROUND Asthma outbreaks due to the inhalation of soybean dust released from handling of soybean in the city harbour occurred in Barcelona, Spain from 1981 to 1987. The installation of bag filters in the responsible silo was followed by a substantial reduction of airborne soybean dust released into the atmosphere and the disappearance of asthma outbreaks. A study was undertaken to assess the relevant outcomes in asthma patients affected by soybean epidemic asthma eight years after this environmental intervention.

METHODS A repeat case-control study was performed in 1995 on a population of subjects with epidemic and non-epidemic asthma previously assessed in 1989. The same protocol was used in both surveys to collect data from patients via a questionnaire and respiratory function, skin and laboratory tests were performed under blinded conditions with regard to epidemic and non-epidemic status. Environmental soybean allergen in pollution filters was measured by means of a RAST inhibition technique.

RESULTS During 1995 and 1996 the 24 hour mean airborne levels of soybean allergen on a sample of 39 unloading days (range 31–269 U/m3) were systematically below the lowest level ever detected during an epidemic day (1500 U/m3). Measurable levels of serum IgE antibodies against soybean were still present in 55% of patients with epidemic asthma compared with 6.0% of those with non-epidemic asthma (p<0.05). These proportions were almost identical to those observed in 1989. The proportion of patients with soybean asthma with symptoms in 1989 who reported the absence of symptoms in 1995 was similar to the control subjects, so most of the relative risks (RRs) of improvement were near to 1. The only statistically significant differences between the two groups were a smaller proportion of patients with epidemic asthma showing improvement in terms of being woken up by attacks of coughing (RR improvement 0.47; 95% CI 0.22 to 0.99) and the need for treatment at the emergency room (RR improvement 0.63; 95% CI 0.41 to 0.96).

CONCLUSIONS Eight years after a large reduction in the levels of airborne soybean allergen half of the former soybean epidemic asthma patients were still sensitised to soybean. These results indicate an initial improvement in soybean epidemic asthma in the two years following the intervention with no further improvement in subsequent years.

  • epidemic asthma
  • environmental asthma
  • soybean
  • intervention

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