Objective: To generate hypotheses regarding occupational exposures that may cause systemic autoimmune diseases.
Methods: Based on examination of US death certificates, we identified deaths in 26 states for which a cause was listed as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (n = 36,178), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) (n = 7,241), systemic sclerosis (n = 5,642), or other systemic autoimmune disease (n = 4,270). Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were calculated to estimate associations between occupation and death from any systemic autoimmune disease, and from RA, SLE, and systemic sclerosis, specifically. Additionally, we estimated risks associated with occupational exposures, which were assigned using job-exposure matrices.
Results: A broad array of occupations was associated with death from systemic autoimmune diseases, including several of a priori interest. Farming occupation was associated with death from any systemic autoimmune disease (OR 1.3 [95% CI 1.2-1.4]), and increased risk was also seen with occupational exposure to animals and pesticides. Several industrial occupations were associated with death from any systemic autoimmune disease, including mining machine operators (OR 1.3 [95% CI 1.1-1.5]), miscellaneous textile machine operators (OR 1.2 [95% CI 1.0-1.4]), and hand painting, coating, and decorating occupations (OR 1.8 [95% CI 1.0-2.9]). These occupations were also significantly associated with death from the specific autoimmune diseases examined. Certain occupations entailing exposure to the public, such as teachers, were associated with systemic autoimmune disease-related death, whereas others, such as waiters and waitresses, were not.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that death from systemic autoimmune diseases may be associated with occupational exposures encountered in farming and industry. The hypotheses generated in this study provide leads for future research on determinants of these diseases.