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Use care when harvesting wheat with vomitoxin

Head scab is at moderate levels around the state and the resulting vomitoxin can be dangerous.

By Matt Reese

According to a recent Ohio State University Extension survey, 140 fields in 27 counties have been surveyed for head scab, and the incidence in untreated fields has ranged from 0.4% to 45%. A few fields in all parts of the state (southern, central, and northern) had greater than 25% incidence, while other fields had very low incidence. With vomitoxin again an issue in fields around the state and wheat harvest just getting started, it is important that farmers remember the dangers of inhaling the very small particles of the fungus.

“One of the issues of vomitoxin is that you can have contamination that doesn’t show up in obvious ways. Certainly, there may be issue because we’ve had an incredibly wet year, which promotes the growth of fungus,” said Mary Fleming, an Agricultural Health Nurse in the Hospital and Health Care industry with Kilbourne United Methodist Church. “One of the problems with respiratory exposure is that the particle size that causes damage is so small that it is not visible to the naked eye. Those small particles have the ability to get through the nasal passages to the lungs where they cause respiratory disease. We also see a problem with the original onset of disease. It is mild enough that the individual doesn’t feel symptomatic. By the time they recognize symptoms of respiratory disease occurring, there is significant damage that is already done to the lungs. “

Symptoms from the inhalation of vomitoxin can include fever, shortness of breath, muscle aches and pains, cough, sneezing and many times the person is going to feel like it is really hard to work for three to five days.

“It is hard to give a measure of what level is dangerous because relatively small amounts that get into the lungs can cause irritation and damage,” Fleming said. “We can say that f they use a N95 mask that is certified to protect the lungs from 95% of those small particles, that will protect them. The mask is the single best protection from organic dust. Those are usually going to be available at TSC, Home Depot, Lowe’s or department stores. You usually can find those for a couple of dollars a mask. What is important is that you do not just look for the words “dust mask” because that is just going to protect you from larger particles and not the smaller sized particles from vomitoxin.”

A properly maintained cab filter system also offers protection.

“During the time they are in a cab with a filter systems, that will protect them as long as that filter is maintained properly,” she said.

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