FARMINGTON, CONNECTICUT. Rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and systemic lupus erythematosus are among more than 60 so-called autoimmune disorders. The characteristic feature of these diseases is that the immune system attacks normal body tissues as if they were foreign invaders. It is generally accepted that an autoimmune disease occurs when a genetically susceptible host is exposed to an appropriate environmental trigger – in many cases an infection.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut have recently completed a study of death certificates for 860,648 Americans listed as having a professional occupation. They conclude that school teachers, notably secondary teachers, have a significantly higher mortality from autoimmune diseases than do people of other professions. Overall teachers had a 2.3 per cent mortality rate from autoimmune diseases as compared to 1.7 per cent for other professions. The excess mortality was exceptionally high for teachers between the ages of 35 and 44 years. In this age group teachers had a 49 per cent higher mortality from autoimmune diseases than did other professionals. The excess mortality (143 per cent) was even higher for secondary teachers. Secondary teachers were particularly likely to die from multiple sclerosis (205 per cent increased mortality) and systemic lupus erythematosus (182 per cent increased mortality).
The researchers speculate that the reason for the increased mortality is that teachers have significantly
higher exposures to infectious agents such as the Epstein-Barr virus (mononucleosis) and rhinoviruses early
in their career than do other professions.