OBJECTIVES: To investigate the following questions. (1) Is silica dust on its own, without the presence of silicosis, associated with an increased risk of pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) in workers exposed to silica dust? (2) In the absence of silicosis is the excess risk dose related? (3) What is the predominant chronological sequence between the development of PTB and the development of silicosis after the end of exposure to dust? METHODS: A cohort of 2255 white South African gold miners has been followed up from 1968 to 1971, when they were 45-55 years of age, to 31 December 1995 for the incidence of PTB. During the follow up 1592 (71%) men died. Of these, 1296 (81%) had a necropsy done at the National Centre for Occupational Health (NCOH) to determine the presence of silicosis and PTB. The incidence of PTB in the cohort was studied relative to cumulative exposure to dust and the onset of silicosis. For the miners with necropsy, the incidence for PTB was studied relative to the severity of silicosis found at necropsy. RESULTS: There were 115 subjects who developed PTB. The total person-years of follow up was 39,319. For the whole cohort, the factors associated with increased risk of PTB were cumulative exposure to dust (mg/m3.y) (the adjusted rate ratio (RR) 1.07; (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.04 to 1.10)), silicosis diagnosed radiologically (3.96 (2.59 to 6.06)), and tobacco pack-years (1.02 (1.01 to 1.03)). The RR (95% CI) for PTB increased with increasing quartiles of cumulative exposure to dust 1.0, 1.51 (0.78 to 2.91), 2.35 (1.28 to 4.32), and 3.22 (1.75 to 5.90). In miners who did not have radiologically diagnosed silicosis (n = 1934, PTB = 74), the adjusted RR (95% CI) for PTB and cumulative exposure to dust was 1.10 (1.06 to 1.13), and increased with quartiles of cumulative exposure to dust as 1.00, 1.46 (0.70 to 3.03), 2.67 (1.37 to 5.23), and 4.01 (2.04 to 7.88). For the subjects who had a necropsy (n = 1296, PTB = 70), the adjusted RR (95% CI) for PTB increased with the severity of silicosis found at necropsy; 1.0 for no silicosis, 1.88 (0.97 to 3.64) for negligible, 2.69 (1.35 to 5.37) for slight, and 2.30 (1.16 to 4.58) for moderate or marked silicosis. For subjects who had a necropsy and no silicosis (n = 577, PTB = 18), the adjusted RR (95% CI) increased slightly with quartiles of cumulative dust 1.0, 1.11 (0.31 to 4.00), 1.42 (0.43 to 4.72), and 1.38 (0.33 to 5.62). CONCLUSION: Exposure to silica dust is a risk factor for the development of PTB in the absence of silicosis, even after exposure to silica dust ends. The risk of PTB increases with the presence of silicosis, and in miners without radiological silicosis, with quartiles of exposure to dust. The severity of silicosis diagnosed at necropsy was associated with increasing risk of PTB and even < 5 nodules--that is, undetectable radiologically--was associated with an increased risk of PTB. The diagnosis of PTB was on average 7.6 years after the end of exposure to dust, at around 60 years of age. The onset of radiological silicosis preceded the diagnosis of PTB in 90.2% of the cases with PTB who had silicosis. The results have implications for medical surveillance of workers exposed to silica dust after the end of exposure.
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