Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in a Welder Exposed to Metal Fumes

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A 43-year-old man began having malaise, chills, and fever 12 hours after cutting a galvanized steel grating with an acetylene torch at work. Over the next 72 hours, his symptoms persisted and became worse with progressive shortness of breath. He was admitted to the hospital and begun on antibiotics and steroids. The next day his condition had deteriorated to the point that he had to be intubated. Chest x-ray film and computed tomography showed patchy and interstitial infiltration bilaterally, consistent with acute respiratory distress syndrome. Open lung biopsy showed focal mild interstitial pneumonia. Multiple laboratory studies were negative for an infectious or an immune process. The patient remained on mechanical ventilation for 10 days and was discharged from the hospital 2 days after extubation. He continued to improve, with minimal symptoms and a return to normal activity levels several months after the incident with no continued treatment. Re-creation of his exposure was done under controlled circumstances, with air sampling revealing elevated air levels for cadmium and zinc and borderline levels of arsenic, manganese, lead, and iron.

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