CDC investigates mysterious cluster of lung disease among Virginia dentists

Between 2000 and 2015, eight dentists and one dental technician were treated for a progressive lung disease at the same Virginia hospital. The cause of the illnesses, which caused seven deaths, is unknown, according to the CDC's most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The disease is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and carries of median survival rate of three to five years upon diagnosis. After receiving reports about the condition occurring among multiple Virginia dentists treated at the same hospital, the CDC examined medical records for the 894 patients treated for the condition at the hospital between September 1996 and June 2017. The nine dental professionals identified were 23 times higher than the number of dental professionals researchers expected to find.

Exposures unique to dentistry — such as viruses, radiation, bacteria and compounds with potential respiratory toxicity used to clean equipment — could have contributed to the illnesses, lead study author Randall Nett, MD, a medical officer with the US Public Health Service, told CNN via email.

"At this time, we do not know what caused this cluster of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis cases in dental personnel," Dr. Nett told CNN. "More work has to be done before we can make any conclusions about the risk dentists or other dental personnel have. CDC will follow up on this newly recognized cluster."

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