In the modern world, those who harvest our foods are often out of sight and out of mind. But one sad story has been making the news lately involving agricultural workers who work with cane sugar, according to NPR. A mysterious kidney disease is killing men in the prime of their lives in Central America. This includes men as young as their early 20s. It’s especially concentrated on the Pacific Coast among male agricultural workers who are sugar cane cutters.

It’s not related to diabetes, or any of the other commonly known kidney diseases, and despite already killing at least 20,000 people over the past decade, it doesn't even have a universally agreed-upon name. It has researchers around the world looking for answers. There are many theories about why it is happening — but none are conclusive:

"We don't know. That's the unfortunate part, and we do desperately need to find some answers," says Reina Turcios-Ruiz, a medical epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's office in Guatemala City.
Ongoing research is looking into whether the disease is connected to chemical exposure on the farm. This would explain why the disease seems to only hit the men working the fields, and not the women in the area.

A similar problem occurred among Sri Lanka sugar farmers, and the Sri Lanka government chose to ban glyphosate, a generic version of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. At one village where they have been especially hit hard by this mysterious disease, officials said they also used Roundup, but that “a link between the herbicide and the disease hasn’t been proven.”

Another theory is that the men working under intense sun get dehydrated, and this makes them more susceptible to toxins around them. Other theories include a virus spread by rats called hantavirus, and possibly the overuse of pharmaceuticals.

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