Mystery Illness Sweeps Across Central America

A mysterious illness has spread across Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000.

The illness has caused extremely high rates of chronic kidney disease, which have not been seen at such a rate in almost anywhere else in the world. The new disease has been reported as far south as Panama and as far north as southern Mexico.

Last year the epidemic got so bad in the area, that El Salvador's health minister, Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, pleaded for international assistance, saying the epidemic was weakening the country's health system. "This is a disease that comes with no warning, and when they find it, it's too late," she said.

The majority of those affected are sugar cane workers or manual laborers that cover the majority of the coastal lowlands. Scientists therefore speculate that the disease may be caused from dehydration, working in extremely hot temperatures and not staying hydrated.

Dehydration, which is extremely life threatening can be caused by a combination caused by losing fluid to extreme sweating and also urination and not drinking enough water, which is certainly possible for these workers.

There is also speculation by scientists that the illness may be caused from agricultural chemicals, which workers have used for decades with practically no protective wear which is mandatory in first world countries. Though there gives no evidence of this so far.

"I think that everything points away from pesticides," said Dr. Catharina Wesseling told, an occupational and environmental epidemiologist who also is regional director of the Program on Work, Health and Environment in Central America. "It is too multinational; it is too spread out." reported on corn, rice and sesame harvester Wilfredo Ordonez, who was struck down with the disease at 38, after more than 30 years of working in the fields in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador. A decade later he must now rely on dialysis treatment.

"This is a disease that comes with no warning, and when they find it, it's too late," Ordonez told