Assessing residential exposure to microbes from industrial hog operations in rural North Carolina: Methods and lessons learned

Online Publication Date:
October 6, 2021
Publication Status:
Published Article MUSE Link:
Manuscript PDF File:

**Published in Progress in Community Health Partnerships (PCHP) volume 16. All rights reserved**

Background: Recent advances in molecular source tracking make answering questions from residents regarding their exposure to microbial contaminants from industrial hog operations (IHOs) possible. Associations between residential distance to IHOs and exposure can be addressed by measuring livestock-associated (Staphylococcus aureus) and pig-specific bacteria (Pig-2-Bac) in the air, on household surfaces, and in participants’ nasal and saliva swabs.
Objectives: Here we assess the mechanics, feasibility, capacity-building, and lessons learned during a pilot study employing this novel technology in community-based participatory research of bacterial exposure and human health.
Methods: Together, our team of academics and community members designed a field- and laboratory-based pilot study. Air samples, surface and human swabs, and questionnaires from households at varying distances from IHOs were collected. Data were assessed for completeness and quality by two independent reviewers. These metrics were defined as: missingness (completeness), incorrect data type (validity), out of range (validity), and outliers (accuracy).
Lessons Learned: While critical field equipment was obtained, and knowledge exchange occurred, leading to an increased capacity for future work, after review, 38 of 49 households were deemed eligible for inclusion in the study. Of eligible participants, 98% of required electronic survey questions were complete and 100% were valid; an improvement over prior work which employed paper surveys. While all human microbial and air samples were collected from eligible households (n=231), (5%) of environmental swabs were reported missing.
Conclusions: Using community-appropriate sampling protocols, a pilot study of residential exposure to bacteria from IHOs was completed. While high-quality data was collected from those eligible, we learned the necessity of early and continual data review.