Heat-related symptoms in sugarcane harvesters

Am J Ind Med. 2015 May;58(5):541-8. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22450.


Background: Exposure to heat stress is a documented risk for Central American sugarcane harvesters. However, little is known about heat-related illness in this population.

Methods: This study examined the frequency of heat-related health effects among harvesters (n = 106) exposed to occupational heat stress compared to non-harvesters (n = 63). Chi-square test and gamma statistic were used to evaluate differences in self-reported symptoms and trends over heat exposure categories.

Results: Heat and dehydration symptoms (headache, tachycardia, muscle cramps, fever, nausea, difficulty breathing, dizziness, swelling of hands/feet, and dysuria) were experienced at least once per week significantly more frequently among harvesters. Percentages of workers reporting heat and dehydration symptoms increased in accordance with increasing heat exposure categories.

Conclusions: A large percentage of harvesters are experiencing heat illness throughout the harvest demonstrating an urgent need for improved workplace practices, particularly in light of climate change and the epidemic of chronic kidney disease prevalent in this population.

Keywords: Central America; agricultural worker; chronic kidney disease; climate change; heat stress; sugarcane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / etiology*
  • Climate
  • Farmers*
  • Heat Stress Disorders / epidemiology
  • Heat Stress Disorders / etiology*
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Saccharum
  • Workplace
  • Young Adult