Mysterious illness plagues Gulf oil disaster workers
Reported by: Janet Kwak
Last Update: 9:57 am
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Gulf oil disaster workers coming down with mysterious illness
Oil cleanup workers hired by BP clean oily deposits from the shore in Orange Beach, Ala., Saturday, June 12, 2010. Almost two months after an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, shortages of government-required protective gear and cleaning equipment are slowing work to remove the sticky mess and keep beaches along the coast safe and oil-free. (Dave Martin, Associated Press) SAN ANTONIO -- For weeks now, local hospitals have tracked patients with suspicious symptoms coming in from the gulf coast. Doctors are having trouble distinguishing it from the flu.
"What makes it challenging is that patients show up with non-specific symptoms. Headaches, fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, upset stomach," lists Dr. Claudia Miller at UT Health Science Center.
The illness is called "TILT," or Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance. Patients lose tolerance to household products, medication, or even food after being exposed to chemicals, like burning oil, toxic fumes, or dispersants from the spill.
"Things like diesel fuel, exposure to fragrances, cleaning agents that never bothered them before suddenly bother them," adds Dr. Miller.
TILT has been difficult to track because symptoms are similar to the flu. Currently, Dr. Miller is educating primary care doctors on how to spot and treat the illness before it gets worse. Though it's not contagious, the best cure right now is staying away from affected areas.
"Be sure to wear protective equipment and stay out of areas with smell, if [you] feel sick," Dr. Miller says. "The smells are usually chemicals that can make them ill."