Epidemiologic Study of the Autoimmune Health Effects of a Cargo Aircraft Disaster

P. Slottje, J.A. Bijlsma, N. Smidt, J.W.R. Twisk, A.C. Huizink, W.F. Lems, I.M.W. van Hoogstraten, A.B. Witteveen, W. van Mechelen, T. Smid

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    Background: In the aftermath of a cargo aircraft crash in Amsterdam in 1992, indications of autoimmune disorders appeared in some of the affected population. Methods: This epidemiologic study sought to determine the possible long-term autoimmune health effects of the aircraft disaster on professional assistance workers. Exposed professional firefighters (n=334) and police officers (n = 834) who performed at least 1 disaster-related task and hangar workers who sorted and investigated the wreckage (n=241) were compared with reference groups of nonexposed colleagues who did not perform any disaster-related tasks (n=194, n=634, and n=104, respectively). Data were collected a mean of 8.5 years after the disaster. Questionnaires were used to assess disaster-related tasks and 11 autoimmune-like symptoms. All serum samples were tested for the presence of antinuclear antibodies, rheumatoid factor, and antineutrophil cytoplasmic and anticardiolipin antibodies. Results: Compared with nonexposed colleagues, exposed workers reported significantly more autoimmunelike symptoms. They reported the following symptoms significantly more often: tingling sensations, myalgia, loss of strength, easily fatigued, and a feeling of sand in the eyes (all groups); infection proneness (firefighters); skin abnormalities and nocturnal transpiration (police officers and hangar workers); and vasculitis-like symptoms and Raynaud discoloring (police officers). In contrast, we found no significant difference between exposed and nonexposed workers in autoantibody prevalence. Conclusion: Occupational exposure to the aircraft disaster resulted in an excess of long-term self-reported autoimmune-like symptoms in exposed professional assistance workers, but there was no difference between exposed and nonexposed workers in the prevalence of autoantibodies. ©2005 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2278-2285
    JournalArchives of Internal Medicine
    Issue number19
    Early online date24 Oct 2005
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


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