A deadly lung disease is killing dentists in Virginia at a notably high rate, and the CDC wants to know why, CNN reports. Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reveals eight dentists and a dental technician were treated for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis at a Virginia care center between 2000 and 2015. They make up about 1% of the 894 IPF cases handled by the facility between 1996 and 2017, according to Medscape. But Newsweek notes dentists and dental technicians make up only about 0.038% of the US population. The study published Friday is the first to show a link between IPF and dentistry. The study's lead author, Dr. Randall Nett, tells CNN the number of IPF cases at the Virginia care center involving dentists and dental technicians "was about 23 times higher than expected."
Only two of the nine patients—all men with an average age of 64—are still alive. The cause of IPF is unknown, but the study found occupational hazards faced by dentists could play a role. "Dentists and other dental personnel have unique exposures at work," Nett says. "These exposures include bacteria, viruses, dusts, gases, radiation, and other respiratory hazards." The chief policy officer of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says the report is "not surprising," especially because the IPF patients were older and may not have been using modern practices and protections. One of the surviving patients told the CDC he worked as a dentist for 40 years and only wore a surgical mask during the last 20; he said he never wore a certified respirator. The CDC is planning to follow up the study with further research.