Introduction: Foodborne Campylobacter jejuni infection has been associated with an increased risk of autoimmune peripheral neuropathy, but risks of occupational exposure to C. jejuni have received less attention. This study compared anti-C. jejuni IgA, IgG, and IgM antibody levels, as well as the likelihood of testing positive for any of five anti-ganglioside autoantibodies, between animal farmers and non-farmers. Anti-C. jejuni antibody levels were also compared between farmers with different animal herd or flock sizes. The relationship between anti-C. jejuni antibody levels and detection of anti-ganglioside autoantibodies was also assessed.
Methods: Serum samples from 129 Agricultural Health Study swine farmers (some of whom also worked with other animals) and 46 non-farmers, all from Iowa, were analyzed for anti-C. jejuni antibodies and anti-ganglioside autoantibodies using ELISA. Information on animal exposures was assessed using questionnaire data. Anti-C. jejuni antibody levels were compared using Mann-Whitney tests and linear regression on log-transformed outcomes. Fisher's Exact Tests and logistic regression were used to compare likelihood of positivity for anti-ganglioside autoantibodies.
Results: Farmers had significantly higher levels of anti-C. jejuni IgA (p < 0.0001) and IgG (p = 0.02) antibodies compared to non-farmers. There was no consistent pattern of anti-C. jejuni antibody levels based on animal herd or flock size. A higher percentage of farmers (21%) tested positive for anti-ganglioside autoantibodies compared to non-farmers (9%), but this difference was not statistically significant (p = 0.11). There was no significant association between anti-C. jejuni antibody levels and anti-ganglioside autoantibodies.
Conclusions: The findings provide evidence that farmers who work with animals may be at increased risk of exposure to C. jejuni. Future research should include longitudinal studies of exposures and outcomes, as well as studies of interventions to reduce exposure. Policies to reduce occupational exposure to C. jejuni should be considered.