Anisa has been working in a research laboratory for six months. She works with a team of researchers who are studying the effects of novel cancer therapies. Part of Anisa’s job involves collection of blood samples from mice in the vivarium for approximately two hours a day, three times a week.Anisa has noticed that when she is in the procedure room working with mice, she develops certain symptoms, including itchy eyes, sneezing and a runny nose. Her symptoms improve when she leaves the procedure room.
Anisa is among the estimated 2-12% of workers in laboratory animal facilities who annually report new cases of allergic disease due to contact with laboratory animals. Animal-related asthma and allergies are exaggerated reactions of the body’s immune system to anima proteins known as allergens. Although there are many people who work with laboratory animals that never develop allergies or asthma, animal handlers have a much higher risk of developing symptoms than those who do not work with animals.
Some individuals may have pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk of developing allergies or asthma when working with animals. If you have already experienced allergic responses to animals outside of work, you are probably at a higher risk of developing more serious disease with continued exposure to animal allergens. Some studies suggest that if you have a history of allergic reactions, such as dermatitis and hay fever, to a variety of substances, you may be more likely to develop allergies to laboratory animals.
Persons at greatest risk are those who already have asthma and have experienced allergic symptoms while working with animals. Individuals with this medical history can develop irreversible disease if exposure to allergens in the animal laboratory continues.
Most researchers who develop animal allergies present with a combination of symptoms, including:
Some researchers then go on to develop occupational asthma, a potentially debilitating disease. It is unusual for an exposed worker to develop occupational asthma prior to experiencing symptoms such as nasal congestion.
Although not as common as respiratory symptoms, some researchers may develop rashes or hives at the site of direct skin contact with allergens. Other skin symptoms include the development of hives under protective clothing, an allergic response to inhaling airborne allergens.
Rarely, animal workers may develop anaphylactic reactions after exposure to an allergen. This type of reaction is most commonly associated with an animal bite or needlestick injury sustained by a highly allergic person.
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe, potentially fatal systemic allergic reaction that can involve various areas of the body, such as the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular system. Symptoms occur within minutes to several hours after contact with the allergy-causing substance. Anaphylactic reactions can be mild to life-threatening.
Allergy symptoms can develop within a few minutes of exposure or many hours later. For this reason, researchers and animal husbandry staff often do not associate symptoms they experience with animal work performed work up to 8 hours prior.
Allergen Sources and Routes of Exposure
Controlling Your Exposure to Animal Allergens
Research and animal husbandry staff can:
Every person who performs animal research or provides maintenance and support services on a regular basis in an animal facility must participate in the Animal Worker Medical Surveillance program. You will be asked to complete a brief health history when you first begin work and then again at regular intervals. If the information you submit indicates you are at risk or have already developed laboratory animal allergens, Employee Health will conduct a detailed health assessment. If appropriate, you will be referred to a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies. Employee Health, your allergist and specialists from Environmental Health and Safety will work together to develop a plan to reduce your exposure.
If you are concerned that your job or research may be affected if you report allergies to Employee Health, consider some important facts:
Latex Gloves and Related Allergies (top)
Allergic reactions to natural rubber latex have been increasing since 1987, when the Center for Disease Control recommended the use of universal precautions to protect against potentially infectious materials, bloodborne pathogens and HIV. Increased glove demand also resulted in higher levels of allergens due to changes in the manufacturing process. In additional to skin contact with the latex allergens, inhalation is another potential route of exposure. Latex proteins may be released into the air along with the powders used to lubricate the interior of the glove.
In June 1997, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued an alert, “Preventing Allergic Reactions to Latex in the Workplace” (publication number DHHS (NIOSH) 97-135). The full text of this publication is available at the NIOSH web site, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/homepage.html.
NIOSH studies indicate that 8-12% of healthcare workers regularly exposed to latex are sensitized, compared to 1-6% of the general population. Latex exposure symptoms include skin rash and inflammation, respiratory irritation, asthma and shock. The amount of exposure needed to sensitize an individual to natural rubber latex is not known, but when exposures are reduced, sensitization decreases.
NIOSH recommends the following actions to reduce exposure to latex:
Decontamination Procedures (top)
Decontamination is a process or treatment that renders an instrument or environmental surface safe to handle. A decontamination procedure can be as simple as clean-up with detergent and water or as thorough as sterilization. Sterilization and disinfection are two ways to address microbial contamination.
Sterilization is the use of physical or chemical processes to destroy all microbial life, including highly resistant forms, such as bacterial spores.
Disinfection is the elimination of essentially all pathogenic
non-sporeforming microorganisms, but not necessarily all microbial
from work surfaces and equipment. Effectiveness is influenced by a number of factors,
including: types and numbers of organisms; amount of organic matter; the object
being disinfected; the disinfectant being used; exposure time, temperature
In Princeton University animal facilities, decontamination is accomplished by the use of disinfectants applied to surfaces and equipment; by chemical sterilants and steam heat sterilization in an autoclave (particularly for surgical equipment and for bedding, animal feed, and other materials used in the barrier animal facility; and by use of the cage-washing machine located in each facility. LAR provides chemical disinfectants for use on surfaces in animal research areas. These disinfectants have been reviewed by both LAR and EHS and are appropriate to use in animal research areas. Do not introduce a new chemical disinfectant without prior review and approval from LAR.
Animal Laboratory Waste (top)
Laboratory wastes unique to the animal facility include animal bedding and animal carcasses. These are generated along with the sharps and other biologically-contaminated equipment that typically need to be discarded in all laboratories.
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