Green tobacco sickness 'highly prevalent' in N.C. farmworkers

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Green tobacco sickness "is a highly prevalent occupational illness among Latino migrant and seasonal farmworkers in North Carolina," report N.C. researchers in the current Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Forty-four of 182 farmworkers in the study had green tobacco sickness at least once in a 10-week period, said Thomas A. Arcury, Ph.D., of Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Those 44 workers had 65 occurrences of green tobacco sickness -- including such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, headache and dizziness. "Our study provides the first prospective surveillance data on the prevalence and incidence of green tobacco sickness in any population," said Arcury, associate professor of family and community medicine.

Arcury was a co-author of an article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in February 2000 that reported that 41 percent of tobacco farm workers said they had green tobacco sickness at least once in the summer.

The earlier study was based on recall at summer's end. In the new study, the workers were interviewed five times during a 10-week period, and reported sickness as the study progressed, which heightens accuracy.

The research team, which included Sara A. Quandt, Ph.D., professor of public health sciences, John S. Preisser, Ph.D., of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Deborah Norton, M.D., of the N.C. Farmworker Health Program, said, "more effort must be directed toward preventing this occupational illness."

Green tobacco sickness is caused by acute nicotine poisoning resulting from the absorption through the skin of nicotine from the green tobacco plants. The investigators reported that the incidence of green tobacco sickness increased over the course of the growing season, with early-season work, such as topping the tobacco plants to allow the lower leaves to grow more extensively, having a relatively low in

Contact: Robert Conn, Mark Wright or Jim Steele
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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