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Emory researchers receive $2.2 million to study health effects of heat exposure

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Researchers at Emory University have received a $2.2 million grant to study the health impact of heat exposure among farm workers, a sector that is particularly vulnerable to illnesses after long hours of laboring in hot and humid conditions.

Emory’s School of Nursing and School of Medicine received the four-year award from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For several years, investigators from the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing have worked with the Farmworker Association of Florida to study occupational health issues among agricultural workers.

In addition to known heat-related health threats, researchers have recently theorized that high environmental temperatures and strenuous work may play a role in the development of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu), which is a growing cause of illness and death among agricultural workers globally.

“We hope the study will help us understand how certain chronic ailments could be related to heat exposure, and lead to the development of interventions that protect the health of farm workers and other vulnerable populations,” said nursing school dean and lead investigator Linda McCauley, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAAOHN.

Apart from McCauley, the study includes Vicki Hertzberg, PhD, and Valerie Vi Mac, PhD, RN, FNP-C, both from the nursing school, as well as Jeff Sands, MD, of the Emory School of Medicine.

In 2015, McCauley was part of another Emory nursing school-led study which found that 4 in 5 farmworkers in Florida experienced body temperatures that exceeded the recommended limit of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on at least one of the three days they were monitored. A majority of the workers reported symptoms of heat-related illness, including dizziness, confusion, fainting, nausea and headaches.

Currently, only three states have heat-related labor standards: California and Washington, which protect outdoor workers, and Minnesota, which provides policy safeguards for indoor workers.

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