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Year : 2010  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 54-57

A study of neurologic symptoms on exposure to organophosphate pesticides in the children of agricultural workers

1 Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India
2 Department of Biochemistry, Acharya Nagarajuna University, Andhra Pradesh, India

Date of Web Publication30-Oct-2010

Correspondence Address:
S K Rastogi
CSIR Emeritus Scientist, Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Post Box No. 80, Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Lucknow - 226 001
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Source of Support: Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi, Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow (UP), India, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5278.72242

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Pesticides are used extensively throughout the world in agriculture and in pest control as well as for community health purposes. Organophosphate (OP) pesticide self-poisoning is an important clinical problem in rural regions of the developing world that kills an estimated 200,000 people every year. Unintentional poisoning kills far fewer people but is an apparent problem in places where highly toxic OP pesticides are available. Neurologic dysfunction is the best documented health effect of pesticide exposure. High-level exposure has both acute and long-term neurologic signs and symptoms, and adverse effects have been reported in most type of pesticides, including organophosphate (OP), carbamate, organochlorine, and pyrethroid insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fumigants. Acute OP pesticide exposure can involve in wide range of both central and peripheral neurologic symptoms. Increased neurologic symptom prevalence may provide early evidence of neurologic dysfunctions, before clinically measurable signs are evident.
In this study, we analyzed the cross-sectional data on neurologic signs and symptoms from 225 rural children, both males (n = 132) and females (n = 93) who were occupationally and paraoccupationally exposed to methyl OPs (dichlorvos, fenthion, malathion, methyl parathion) and ethyl OPs (chlorpyrifos, diazinon, ethyl parathion) as they belonged to agricultural families handling, mixing, and spraying the OP pesticides. The children completed a specially designed questionnaire (Q16) on neurologic symptoms associated with pesticide exposure with their parental help. A suitable reference group consisting of rural children (n = 50) never involved in pesticide handling (neither outdoor nor indoor) belonging to similar socioeconomic strata included in the study to compare the prevalence of various neurologic symptoms between the two groups.
Among all the neurologic self-reported symptoms, headache, watering in eyes, and burning sensation in eye/face were the most important clinical manifestations attributed to OP pesticide exposure. These symptoms could probably be the consequence of chronic effects of most pesticides on the central nervous system. The muscarinic symptoms reported the maximum prevalence of salivation (18.22%), whereas lacrimation was observed in 17.33% cases, followed by diarrhea in 9.33% cases. The nicotinic clinical manifestations of acute OP poisoning revealed excessive sweating in 13.78% cases and tremors in 9.3% cases followed by mydriasis in 8.4% exposed children. The characteristic cholinergic symptoms, such as insomnia, headache, muscle cramps, weakness, and anorexia were also reported by both male and female exposed children. The high frequency of neurologic symptoms observed in the study may be due to parasympathetic hyperactivity due to the accumulated ACh resulting from AChE inhibition.

Keywords: Children, neurologic symptoms, OP pesticides

How to cite this article:
Rastogi S K, Tripathi S, Ravishanker D. A study of neurologic symptoms on exposure to organophosphate pesticides in the children of agricultural workers. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2010;14:54-7

How to cite this URL:
Rastogi S K, Tripathi S, Ravishanker D. A study of neurologic symptoms on exposure to organophosphate pesticides in the children of agricultural workers. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2010 [cited 2021 Jun 20];14:54-7. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Organophosphate (OP) compounds are extensively used as pesticides and industrial chemicals. They are primarily neurotoxic and produce well-defined muscarinic, nicotinic, and cholinergic neurosymptoms involving both central and peripheral nervous systems. [1],[2],[3] Increases in both central and peripheral neurologic symptoms are also found in many studies on moderate exposure. [4] Increased symptom prevalence may provide early evidence of neurologic dysfunction, before clinically measureable signs are evident. High-level exposure has both acute and long-term neurologic effects, and adverse effects have been reported in most type of pesticides, including OP, carbamate, herbicides, and fungicides. OPs have been studied in great detail. Most previous studies of pesticides and neurologic symptoms have focused on OP pesticides. Farm workers, [5],[6] greenhouse workers, [7] and pesticide factory workers [8] exposed to OPs reported more neurologic symptoms than unexposed workers. Similarly, farmers and farm workers who applied OPs had higher symptoms prevalence than did nonapplicators. [9],[10],[11],[12],[13]

  Material and Methods Top

A detailed cross-sectional health survey among the children from agricultural families in rural areas adjoining Lucknow, was carried out to assess the prevalence of chronic neurotoxicity, both OP-induced chronic neurotoxicity (OPICN) and OP-induced delayed neuropathy types, on the basis of self-reported neurologic symptoms and clinical examination. The questions on the symptoms were based on an established questionnaire Q16 that was used to evaluate the effects of occupational exposure to neurotoxicants by Lundberg et al. [14] The questionnaires are available on the AHS website. [15] The study involved with OP pesticide exposure and related morbidity on 225 rural children (both male and females) in the age group of 8-14 years from the adjoining areas, such as Malihabad, Mall, Rahimabad, Bakshi Ka Talab, Sitapur, and other neighboring villages, and the sample size taken from each study area, crops sprayed, and types of OPs sprayed in each respective area. A reference group of 50 children belonging to similar age group and socioeconomic strata selected from those rural families who had no family history of pesticides exposure served as the control group. The following parameters were studied during a health survey:

  1. The general information regarding the age, weight, parental occupation, and frequency and duration of exposure to OP pesticides was recorded on a prestructured survey pro form (Q16).
  2. Clinical examination with particular reference to neurologic system, symptom prevalence specific to chemical neurotoxicity, particularly irritability, insomnia, dizziness, anxiety, cholinergic toxicity, including SLUD sign (acronym for salivation, lacrimation, urination, and defecation), and muscarinic clinical manifestations on exposure to OP pesticides.

At enrollment, the participants completed a self-administered questionnaire that collected information on demographic characteristics, life style, medical history, and types and duration of pesticide use. All information on exposure and disease states were taken from these self-reports.

  Results Top

[Table 1] shows the area of study and the size of children population exposed to different types of OP pesticides directly or indirectly.
Table 1 :Details of place and sample size from a health survey

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The range of age and period of exposure with reference to place of study is shown in [Table 2].
Table 2 :Place of study with reference to age and period of exposure

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The prevalence of OP pesticide-related symptoms observed in exposed rural children are illustrated in [Table 3]. The predominant symptoms associated with environmental exposure to pesticides were headache (8.44%), burning sensation in the eyes (10.22%), nausea and vomiting (7.11%), and dizziness (8.0%).

The clinical manifestation of acute OP poisoning (muscarinic) reported by the pesticides exposed children are elaborated in [Table 4]. The maximum prevalence of excessive salivation was found in 18.22% cases, whereas lacrimation was observed in 17.33% exposed children. Miosis (4.9%), emesis (8.4%), and bronchoconstriction (5.7%) were the other cardinal symptoms observed in the study population.
Table 3 :Prevalence of pesticide-related symptoms

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Table 4 :Clinical manifestation of acute organophosphate poisoning (muscarinic) among farm workers

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The nicotinic clinical manifestations of acute OP poisoning are illustrated in [Table 5]. Excessive sweating was observed in 13.78% cases and mydriasis was observed in 8.4% cases. Some of the other notable symptoms found were tremors (9.3%), muscle weakness (5.7%), and tachycardia (3.1%) cases.

The long-term symptoms of OPICN in children exposed to OP pesticides (acute cholinergic toxicity) are briefed in [Table 6]. Some of the cholinergic symptoms, such as insomnia, headache, anorexia, and numbness in the lower limbs, were reported by both male and female children as a result of chronic exposure to OP pesticides.
Table 5 :Clinical manifestation of acute organophosphate poisoning (nicotinic) among farm workers

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Table 6 :Long-term symptoms of OP-induced chronic neurotoxicity in children exposed to OP pesticides/symptoms of acute cholinergic toxicity

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  Discussion Top

In this study, we found that increased neurologic symptom count was associated with chronic exposure to OP pesticides thereby confirming previous studies. [5],[6],[7] From the findings of this study, we can state that the principal morbidity in the children of agricultural workers consists of a higher incidence of neurologic disorders. Some of the most important clinical neurologic manifestations, such as headache, tremors, dizziness, and paresthesia, maybe attributable to and could be the consequence of the chronic effects of most of the OP pesticides on the peripheral and central nervous systems. [16] The pesticide-related neurologic symptoms, both muscarinic and nicotinic observed in this study could be due to the inhibition of RBCs, AChE, as well as plasma BuChE recorded in the study group and reported in earlier studies by the authors. [17],[18] The acute cholinergic syndrome, such as miosis, excessive salivation, seizures, and others, could be due to overstimulation of postsynaptic acetylcholine accumulation resulting from AChE and BuChE inhibition by OP pesticides. Similar findings have also been reported by Saadeh et al [19] and Holstege and Baer. [20] Lotti [21] observed that the association between OP pesticide exposure and neurotoxic effects are well known. Farhat et al [22] also studied the association between pesticide exposure and neurologic health endpoints and concluded that environmental and occupational exposure to OP pesticides leads to neurodegerative functions in agricultural workers Studies on neurologic symptoms among Sri Lankan farmers showed that 24% of the neurologic symptoms resulted from occupational exposure to AChE-inhibiting OP insecticides. [23]

The long-term neurologic symptoms of OPICN resulting from cholinergic toxicity observed in the study population may be attributed to delayed toxicity by the OP pesticides as the breakdown of these chemicals in the body is slow and this results in the storage of pesticides in the body fat. Some of the OPs, such as diazinon and methyl parathion have significant lipid solubility, allowing fat storage with delayed toxicity due to late release. [24] Delayed toxicity may also occur atypically with other OPs, especially dichlorvos, fenthion, and demeton-methyl. [13]

The neurotoxic effects of OP pesticides could be related to conversion of thions (P=S) to oxons (P=O) in the body by the action of liver microsomes, which are more toxic than thions. The other possible mechanism that may lead to delayed neurotoxicity includes damage to the afferent fibers of peripheral and central nerves and associated with the inhibition of neuropathy target esterase. This delayed syndrome has been termed organophosphate induced delayed neuropathy, and manifested chiefly by weakness or paralysis and paresthesia of the extremities.

  Conclusions Top

We found that the prevalence of neurologic symptoms among the children of agricultural workers was associated with cumulative exposure (chronic) to OP pesticides used by this study population. These results suggest that self-reported neurologic symptoms involved both central and peripheral nervous systems, resulting from indoor and outdoor environmental exposure to OP pesticides.

  Acknowledgment Top

This study was funded by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi. The authors are also thankful to Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow (UP), India, for providing the facilities for doing this work.

  References Top

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2.Keifer M, Mahurin R. Chronic neurologic effects of pesticides over exposure. Occup Med 1997;12:291-304.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Kamel F, Engel LS, Gladen BC, Hoppin JA, Alavanja MC, Sandler DP. Neurologic symptoms in licensed private pesticide applicators in the agricultural health study. Environ Health Perspect 2005;113:877-82.   Back to cited text no. 3
4.Kamel F, Hoppin JA. Association of pesticides exposure with neurologic dysfunction and disease. Environ Health Perspect 2004;112:950-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Gomes J, Lloyd O, Revitt MD, Basha M. Morbidity among farm workers in a desert country in relation to long-term exposure to pesticides. Scand J Work Environ Health 1998;24:213-9.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Strong LL, Thompson B, Coronado GD, Griffith WC, Vigoren EM, Islas I. Health symptoms and exposure to organophosphate pesticides in farmworkers. Am J Ind Med 2004;46:599-606.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Bazylewicz-Walczak B, Majczakowa W, Szymczak M. Behavioral effects of occupational exposure to organophosphorous pesticides in female greenhouse planting workers. Neurotoxicology 1999;20:819-26.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Bellin J, Chow I. Biochemical effects of chronic low-level exposure to pesticides. Res Commun Chem Pathol Pharmacol 1974;9:325-37.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.London L, Nell V, Thompson ML, Myers JE. Effects of longterm organophosphate exposures on neurological symptoms, vibration sense and tremor among South African farm workers. Scand J Work Environ Health 1998;24:18-29.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Ohayo-Mitoko GJ, Kromhout H, Simwa JM, Boleij JS, Heederik D. Self reported symptoms and inhibition of acetylcholinesterase activity among Kenyan agricultural workers. Occup Environ Med 2000;57:195-200.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Steenland K, Dick RB, Howell RJ, Chrislip DW, Hines CJ, Reid TM, et al. Neurologic function among termiticide applicators exposed to chlorpyrifos. Environ Health Perspect 2000;108:293-300.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Pilkington A, Buchanan D, Jamal GA, Gillham R, Hansen S, Kidd M, et al. An epidemiological study of the relations between exposure to organophosphate pesticides and indices of chronic peripheral neuropathy and neuropsychological abnormalities in sheep farmers and dippers. Occup Environ Med 2001;58:702-10.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Smit AM, Van Wendel de Joode BN, Heederik D, Peiris-John RJ, Van der Hoek W. Neurologic symptoms among Sri Lankan farmers occupationally exposed to acetylcholinesterase- inhibiting insecticides. Am J Ind Med 2003;44:254-64.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Lundberg I, Hogberg M, Michelsen H, Nise G, Hogstedt C. Evaluation of the Q16 questionnaire on neurotoxic symptoms and a review of its use. Occup Environ Med 1997;54:343-50.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.AHS website (AHS 2004). Agricultural Health Study. Rockville, MD: National Institutes of Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency. Available from: [2010 Apr 1].   Back to cited text no. 15
16.Savitz DA, Sonnenfeld NL, Olshan AF. Review of epidemiologic studies of paternal occupational exposure and spontaneous abortions. Am J Ind Med 1994;25:361-83.  Back to cited text no. 16
17.Rastogi SK, Singh VK, Kesavachandran C, Jyoti, Siddiqui MK, Mathur N, et al. Monitoring of plasma butyrylcholinesterase activity and hematological parameters in pesticide sprayers. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2008;12:29-32.  Back to cited text no. 17
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18.Rastogi SK, Satyanarayna PV, Ravishanker D, Tripathi S. A study on oxidative stress and anti-oxidant status of agricultural workers exposed to organophosphate insecticides during spraying. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2009;13:131-4.  Back to cited text no. 18
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
19.Saadeh AM, Farsakh NA. Cardiac manifestations of acute carbamate and organophosphate poisoning. Heart 1997;77;461-4.  Back to cited text no. 19
20.Holstege CP, Baer AB. Insecticides. Curr Treat Options Neurol 2004;6:17-23.  Back to cited text no. 20
21.Lotti M. Experimental and clinical neurotoxicology. New York: Oxford University Press; 2000. p. 911-8.  Back to cited text no. 21
22.Farhat TM, Abdelrasoul GM, Amir MM, Shebi MM, Farhat FM, Anger WK. Neurobehavioral effects among workers occupationally exposed to organophosphorus pesticides. Occup Environ Med 2003;60:279-86.  Back to cited text no. 22
23.Peiris-John RJ, Ruberu DK, Wickremasinghe AR, Smit LA, van der Hoek W. Effects of occupational exposure to organophosphate pesticides on nerve and neuromuscular function. J Occup Environ Med 2002;44:352-7.  Back to cited text no. 23
24.Sofic E, Lange KW, Jellinger K, Riederer P. Reduced and oxidized glutathione in the substantia nigra of patients with Parkinson′s disease. Neurosci Lett 1992;142:128-30.  Back to cited text no. 24


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6]

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