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Is Rheumatoid Arthritis a New Health Worry for 9/11 Responders?

More than a decade after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the list of 9/11-related diseases continues to grow. Early on, authorities conceded that the toxic atmosphere at Ground Zero had likely caused a number of respiratory conditions, (e.g., asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic rhinosinusitis) as well as gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). With time, 9/11 responders started developing cancers. Today, the WTC Health Program recognizes a 9/11 connection to 68 types of cancer. Now, a 2014 study suggests that workers at the disaster site may run a greater risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints in your hands and feet. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.” Autoimmune disorders are diseases that occur when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body, treating healthy tissue as it would a foreign body or an infection. Other autoimmune diseases include lupus erythematosus, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Guillain-Barre syndrome, psoriasis and Graves’ disease.

The study, published online on March 16, 2015 in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, found 59 new cases of autoimmune diseases among more than 13,600 firefighters, police and other recovery workers. The study claims that the odds of a recovery worker getting an autoimmune diagnosis rose 13 percent for each month spent at Ground Zero. Workers who spent 10 months at the site were three times more likely to get such a diagnosis as workers who spent only one month there. Rheumatoid arthritis was the most common autoimmune disease, affecting 37 percent of the workers who received an autoimmune diagnosis.

As attorneys who represent 9/11 responders, we welcome this important study and urge recovery workers to seek assistance through the WTC Health Program. The Program is designed to monitor and treat the health of the at-risk population. If enough autoimmune patients come forward, the Program may be forced to recognize autoimmune diseases as 9/11-related illnesses for purposes of treatment and compensation.

If you have any questions about your eligibility for 9/11 benefits, call Barasch & McGarry today at 888-351-9421 or contact our office online to schedule a free consultation.

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