Six cases of silicosis: implications for health surveillance of stonemasons

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Abstract

Background

Silicosis is one of the oldest occupational lung diseases, but it continues to cause significant morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Aims

To report cases of silicosis presenting to two specialist respiratory clinics.

Methods

A retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data of cases of silicosis in workers referred to specialist respiratory clinics.

Results

Over the course of 6 years, six cases were identified. The patients were all male with an age range between 24 and 39 years. The duration of silica exposure ranged between 7 and 20 years (mean 13 years). Four cases were entirely asymptomatic at presentation, and two cases described minimal shortness of breath on exertion. Pulmonary function tests were normal in three cases, and a mild restrictive ventilatory defect was documented in the other cases. All had a low apparent predicted probability of pneumoconiosis based on health questionnaires, spirometry and duration of silica exposure. The initial chest X-ray was abnormal in all six cases with radiological evidence of silicosis (International Labour Office profusion category ≥1/1) on imaging, and all had evidence of silicosis on high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT). Three patients had already progressed to progressive massive fibrosis on HRCT scanning at the time of referral to specialist respiratory services.

Conclusions

The appearances of these six cases of silicosis in young, asymptomatic construction workers emphasizes the importance of enforcing effective exposure control and comprehensive surveillance programmes. Our observations highlight the importance of having a low threshold for early radiological screening to promote early and effective detection of this disease.

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