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Ann Intern Med. 1988 May;108(5):680-6.

Liver disease associated with occupational exposure to the solvent dimethylformamide.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.



to characterize an outbreak of liver disease among workers in a fabric coating factory; and to determine the outbreak's cause and natural history and strategies for clinical recognition, treatment, and prevention.


clinical-epidemiological investigation.


academic medical center, Occupational Medicine Clinic, and worksite.


fifty-eight of sixty-six workers participated in the study. All had standard liver function tests at least once. Forty-six workers completed a questionnaire; 27 had more extensive clinical evaluation for recognized liver abnormalities.


a plant-wide outbreak of liver disease was recognized after a new employee presented with signs and symptoms of hepatitis. Evaluation of the worksite showed that dimethylformamide, a widely used industrial solvent and known hepatotoxin, was being used to coat fabric in poorly ventilated areas without appropriate skin protection. No other major hepatotoxic exposure was identified. Overall, 36 of 58 (62%) workers tested had elevations of either aspartate aminotransferase (AST) or alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels. Enzyme abnormalities occurred almost exclusively in production workers (35 of 46 were abnormal), whereas only 1 of 12 nonproduction workers showed any elevations in enzyme levels (P less than 0.0001). Serologic tests excluded known infectious causes of hepatitis in all but 2 workers and changes characteristic of toxic liver injury were confirmed by histologic examinations of biopsy specimens from 4 workers. The ratio of AST to ALT levels was one or less in all but 1 worker. After modification of work practices and removal of workers most severely affected from exposure, improvement in liver enzyme abnormalities and symptoms in most patients were seen, although some patients showed persistent elevations of enzyme levels.


an outbreak of toxic liver disease has been associated with exposure to dimethylformamide in the workplace. The diagnosis of toxic liver disease was established by the clinical histories, negative viral serologies, an enzyme pattern of ALT levels being greater than AST levels, epidemiologic data on coworkers, and liver biopsy specimens. The high prevalence of unsuspected liver enzyme abnormalities in these workers suggests that occupational liver disease may occur more frequently than is generally recognized.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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