Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UC San Francisco Previously Published Works bannerUCSF

Inorganic Dust Exposure During Military Service as a Predictor of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Autoimmune Conditions.



Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune (AI) conditions are associated with inorganic dust exposure. Many military activities are likely to entail inorganic dust exposures. We wished to identify associations between prior military dust exposure and RA and other AI conditions.


We studied persons from a roster of Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps personnel who had served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. We linked military occupational codes to a job exposure matrix assigning dust exposure likelihood. We used the Veterans Affairs Health Care System (VAHCS) electronic health care records to identify cases of RA, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), systemic sclerosis (SSc), vasculitis, and inflammatory myositis. Generalized estimating equations modeled risk of RA and other AI conditions associated with dust exposure, taking into account military service branch, age at first VAHCS encounter, sex, race/ethnicity, smoking status, and years of military service.


Of 438 086 veterans (68% ever-smokers), 44% were classified with likely or somewhat likely dust exposure. Cases included 1139 cases with RA, 467 cases with SLE, and 180 cases with other AI diseases (SSc, vasculitis, or inflammatory myositis). Military dust exposure was associated with increased odds of RA (odds ratio [OR] = 1.10; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.003-1.20) and increased odds of SSc, vasculitis, or inflammatory myositis (OR = 1.23; 95% CI = 1.14-1.34) but was protective for SLE (OR = 0.81; 95% CI = 0.76-0.88).


Dust exposure during past military service comprises an occupational and environmental risk factor for RA and other AI diseases. This is potentially relevant for prevention activities.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View