Occupational hazard

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Science  01 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6281, pp. 24-27
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6281.24

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Farm workers in southern India are dying from chronic kidney disease, and no one knows what is causing it. But a rash of similar outbreaks in other countries, including Central America, Sri Lanka, and Egypt, has underscored that it is a global problem. Public health experts and researchers are alarmed and baffled. In Central America, which has been hit the hardest, the leading hypothesis is that this is an occupational disease, caused by chronic exposure to heat and dehydration in the cane fields. But in India, as in Sri Lanka and Central America, researchers are pursuing a wide range of ideas, including contaminants in drinking water, excessive use of over-the-counter painkillers, and exposure to pesticides. The beginnings of an international scientific network to study the disease and pinpoint a cause are now taking shape.

  • * Rhitu Chatterjee is a writer in New Delhi.