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Occupational exposure assessment often relies upon subject report. We examined the characteristics of self-reported exposure in respondents' longest held job to vapors, gas, dust, or fumes (VGDF) compared to other measures of exposure risk.We analyzed data from 1,876 respondents from a national US population-based telephone survey designed to estimate the association between occupational factors and chronic disease of the airways. We tested a single VGDF item against responses to a 16-item battery assessing specific inhalation exposures and against a job exposure matrix (JEM). We analyzed all of these measures for their association with adult-onset asthma after excluding subjects with COPD or asthma with onset before age 18.VDGF (single item) was reported by 744 (40%) subjects; any of the 16 exposures by 899 (48%); and an intermediate or high exposure likelihood job by JEM was assigned to 682 (36%). The sensitivity of the VGDF item measured against the 16-item battery was 69%; the specificity was 88%; (classification agreement kappa = 0.58); against the JEM classification the sensitivity was 64% and specificity 74% (kappa = 0.37). The relative odds (OR) for adult-onset asthma associated with various measures of exposure were: VGDF, 1.7 (95% Confidence Interval [CI] 1.0-2.8; P = 0.04); any of the 16 exposures, 1.6 (95% CI 1.0-2.7; P = 0.06), and intermediate or high by JEM, 1.2 (0.7-2.1; P > 0.50).A single VGDF survey item appears to delineate exposure risk at least as well as a multiple-item battery assessing such exposures; it has modest agreement with a JEM-based exposure categorization.