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Work-related accidents and occupational diseases in veterinary practice in Flanders (Belgium)

Veterinarians are relatively frequently unable to work due to work-related accidents or occupational diseases.This is the result of the large number of health risks related to the exercise of the veterinary profession. In addition,mental disorders such as depression and burn-out are becoming increasingly common. Up till now, therewas no information available regarding physical and mental disorders in the veterinary profession in Flanders.The aim of this study was to describe the occurrence of the most important work-related diseases and accidentsin veterinarians in Flanders. This was done by means of an inquiry filled in by 229 veterinarians. In the inquiry,questions were asked concerning allergies, physical and chemical risks, zoonoses, injuries of the musculo-skeletalsystem and the psychological pressure of the profession. Over 35% of the respondents suffer from nasalallergy, allergic symptoms of the eyes or asthma. Within this group, 38% of the cases are due to allergens fromanimals. One out of four respondents suffers from eczema on the hands, the wrists or the lower arms. No less then62% of the respondents suffer from pain in the back and these are working in all types of practices (rural practice,horses, and companion animals). Neck pain is most common in small animal practice, whereas pain in the elbowoccurs most frequently in bovine practitioners. Scratch injuries from cats (67%), bite injuries from dogs or cats(64%), kicks of horses or cattle (61%), bite injuries from horses (16.6%), self injections (61%) and cuts (56%) arethe most common injuries. Nearly 50% of the respondents have suffered from at least one zoonotic disease, andfor 39% of these respondents, the disease was due to fungal infection of the skin. One out of four veterinariansthat often work with gas anesthetics suffers from time to time from headache and nausea due to the gasses used.Finally, the inquiry revealed that the practitioners work on average 58 hours a week (min = 7, max =100), and89% suffer from stress from time to time.On the basis of the data collected, it can be concluded that the veterinary profession involves a substantialnumber of health risks. The results also indicate the necessity of more and better information and preventionconcerning health risks, since many of the injuries and diseases can easily be prevented.

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