Other Languages: Version en espaņol
Wake Forest University School of Medicine
My name is Juan. This story is about what happened to me last summer when I got green tobacco sickness.
Last summer was my first time working in tobacco. I was eager
to start. We went to the fields very early in the morning.
The tobacco leaves were wet. My T-shirt and pants got soaked from the water on the leaves. I carried the leaves under my arms. My T-shirt also got yellow and sticky from the tobacco juice.
Later, the sun started to dry off the leaves. It got very hot in the field. I had to bend over again and again to pick the lower leaves. The smell of the tobacco was very strong, and there was no breeze to stir the air.
After lunch, I started to feel dizzy. Then I got a headache. I was nauseous, and I threw up.
None of the other workers were sick. Some of them said they had felt the same way when they first started working in tobacco.
I lay down in the truck, but I still felt sick. Another worker had to drive me home early that day.
One worker said I should drink some milk, but I still felt sick. Another worker told me to take some pills for motion sickness, but those did not help either.
I could not eat the rest of the day. I also had trouble sleeping that night. I felt very restless. The longer I stayed awake, the more I worried about missing work the next day.
The next day, I was too weak to work. I spent the whole day sitting in a chair. I was really worried, because I might not have enough money to send home to my family. The other workers told me about workers who had been so sick working in tobacco that they had to go home. I was also afraid I might be fired.
I went back to work, but I was still weak. I had a hard time keeping up with the other workers. Every day I felt sick in the evening, although it was not as bad as the first day.
I talked with the clinic outreach worker a few days later at the camp. He told me that I had green tobacco sickness. He explained to me, "Workers can get green tobacco sickness by working in the fields when the leaves are wet.
The nicotine in the tobacco mixes with the water on the leaves and the sweat in your clothes. Then the nicotine goes through your skin into your blood. Your wet clothes keep the nicotine on your skin all day while you are working."
Green tobacco sickness can start within a few hours of going into the fields. Some people may not feel sick until later in the day, even after work is finished. People with green tobacco sickness feel dizzy and sick to their stomachs, start to vomit, and get a headache.
Green tobacco sickness is not usually dangerous. However, some workers may have to go to the hospital because they feel too sick to eat or drink enough.
Some of the other workers said that smoking cigarettes prevents green tobacco sickness; but the outreach worker said that it is a bad idea to smoke cigarettes. Even smokers get green tobacco sickness.
The outreach worker said the best way to prevent green tobacco sickness is to wait to go into the field until the leaves are dry. If you have to work in wet tobacco, you can protect yourself by wearing a rainsuit until the leaves dry off.
It is also a good idea to bring a change of clothes to work. If your work clothes get wet with water from the tobacco leaves, you can change into dry clothes.
The outreach worker told me to wear a long sleeve shirt. It will help keep the tobacco juice off my skin.
If you get wet while you are in the field, you should:
- change your clothes once they get wet
- wash off with warm, soapy water after being in the field
I know how to avoid green tobacco sickness. I can work as much as the others. My boss is very happy that I am working. I am very happy to be working again. I can earn money to send home to my family.
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Reviewed for NASD: 10/2002