Occupational exposure to textile dust more than doubles the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases titled “Occupational exposure to textile dust increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis: results from a Malaysian population-based case–control study.”
Chun Lai Too and colleagues from the Allergy and Immunology Research Center at the Institute for Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, also found that occupational exposure to textile dust is associated with an increased risk to those who are genetically prone to the risk of developing antibodies to rheumatoid arthritis, called ACPA, which accelerates disease progression.
Researchers investigated the association between textile dust exposure and the risk of RA in the Malaysian population, focusing on women who rarely smoke. A total of 910 Malaysian women with a diagnosis of early stage rheumatoid arthritis and 910 women free of the disease were included in the analysis. All study participants were asked if they had ever worked in the textile industry, and had been exposed to other chemicals and silica dust. Blood samples were collected to test for ACPA antibodies, indicating the presence of the disease.
A total of 41 women with RA (4.5 percent) had been exposed to textile dust compared to 15 (1.7 percent) women who were disease-free. Those who were exposed to occupational textile dust were three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, and the risk was double to test positive for ACPA.
Nearly two-thirds of the women with RA (63 percent) had a positive ACPA test result, and 40 percent carried the HLA-DRB1 SE genetic risk factor, which is known to increase the risk of developing RA. Those who carried the HLA-DRB1 SE genetic risk factor and who had been exposed to occupational textile dust were 39 times more likely to have a positive ACPA test result when compared to women who did not carry the genetic risk factor and who had not been exposed to textile dust.
“The association between textile dust and risk of rheumatoid arthritis might involve several potential disease mechanisms since the differing physiochemical properties of airborne dust affect where it deposits in the respiratory tract,” the researchers wrote.
The team proposes that natural or synthetic fibers might explain an association between the textile dust exposure and high risk of RA. Due to their unique shape, fibers have been shown to infiltrate deep into the lungs, where they initiate an inflammatory response.
However, many textiles contain natural organic fibers whose health effects are not as strongly linked to lung disease. Another possible justification is that bacterial agents can be found in textile dust, especially endotoxin, which is produced by all gram-negative bacteria and believed to cause respiratory diseases in textile workers through an inflammatory response in the lungs.
“From a public health perspective, our results imply that efforts should be considered to reduce the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis by reducing occupational exposure to textile dust,” researchers concluded in the article.