OBJECTIVES To test the hypothesis that leatherwork is associated with male infertility mediated through the development of oligozoospermia. The basis of any association was postulated, at the outset, to be with exposure to the solvents used in leatherwork.
METHODS All new referrals with infertility presenting in Leicestershire hospital clinics between November 1988 and September 1992 and Kettering District General Hospital from August 1990 were eligible to participate; 88.5% agreed to be interviewed. Exposure to leatherwork and work with solvents was defined by job title. Comparisons were made with fertile controls and in an analysis within men from infertile couples with oligozoospermia as the primary outcome. Effects on sperm motility and deformity were investigated secondarily. Analyses used logistic regression for binary outcomes and multilevel modelling for continuous outcomes.
RESULTS 1906 men were interviewed. Compared with the fertile controls the men from infertile couples were 1.10 times (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.46 to 2.63; p=0.99) more likely to be leatherworkers and 1.73 times (95% CI 1.26 to 2.38; p<0.001) more likely to work with solvents. Compared with other men, leatherworkers were 1.20 times (95% CI 0.43 to 3.33; p=0.73) more likely to present with oligozoospermia and 1.65 times (95% CI 0.37 to 7.30; p=0.51) more likely to present with teratozoospermia. Being a leatherworker was associated with only a 6% reduction in sperm concentration; motility and deformity were similarly unaffected by this exposure. Work with solvents did not statistically, nor clinically, increase the risk of oligozoospermia, teratozoospermia, or asthenozoospermia.
CONCLUSIONS There was little evidence to support the hypothesis that leatherwork is associated with an increased risk of presenting with infertility or oligozoospermia. There was limited evidence that leatherwork is a risk factor for teratozoospermia. Workers with solvents were at an increased risk of presenting with infertility, although this was not mediated through effects on standard measures of semen quality; this finding merits further investigation.
- male infertility
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