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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

BU: Central American Kidney Disease Epidemic Linked to Occupational Heat Exposure

For two decades, Nicaragua and El Salvador have seen increasing mortality from an unusual form of chronic kidney disease (CKD), also called Mesoamerican Nephropathy (MeN). The disease has disproportionately affected sugarcane and other agricultural workers, and appears to be unrelated to traditional kidney disease risk factors such as diabetes. Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have been collaborating with researchers from the region since 2008, but the specific cause or causes of the disease remain unknown.

Now, a new study by the research team adds to the evidence that the CKD epidemic in the region is linked to occupational heat exposure.

The study, published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, found 12.1 percent of a sample of artisanal brick makers in Nicaragua had CKD, and that the disease was particularly common among individuals who worked with the ovens for baking bricks.

“We knew from going to the health clinic in La Paz Centro that kidney disease was a real problem, but we did not anticipate how high the prevalence would be, or how severe some of the cases,” says Dr. Madeleine Scammell, associate professor of environmental health at BUSPH and one of the study’s two senior authors.

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