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Asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and other respiratory diseases caused by metalworking fluids.

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: To highlight advances in understanding the respiratory disease associated with metal machining, a common work process involving approximately 1.2 million workers in the USA.

RECENT FINDINGS: Recent studies emphasize that work-related asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis continue to be caused by exposure to metalworking fluid. Identification of an individual patient indicates the need for follow-up investigations at the work site to prevent additional disease and/or identify additional effected individuals. Identification of the causal agent for hypersensitivity pneumonitis has centered on microbial contamination of metalworking fluids with a number of studies focusing on Mycobacterium immunogenum.

SUMMARY: Both asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis occur among workers exposed to metalworking fluid. The incidence of these diseases among such workers is unknown. Outbreaks of these conditions continue to be identified among metal machinists. Whether these are true outbreaks associated with some breakdown in workplace controls or, rather the recognition of ongoing endemic disease that is typically misdiagnosed as pneumonia or common adult onset asthma, needs further evaluation. Further work to elucidate the specific causal agent(s) is necessary to affect effective workplace controls. Treating an identified individual case as an index case with a follow-up workplace investigation will only be possible if practicing physicians interact with public health authorities to report newly diagnosed cases.

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