Laboratory animal allergy: an update.
Allergic reactions are among the most common conditions affecting the health of workers involved in the care and use of research animals. Between 11 and 44% of the individuals working with laboratory animals report work-related allergic symptoms. Of those who become symptomatic, 4 to 22% may eventually develop occupational asthma that can persist even after exposure ceases. Allergic symptoms consist of rashes where animals are in contact with the skin, nasal congestion and sneezing, itchy eyes, and asthma (cough, wheezing, and chest tightness). The generation of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies is a prerequisite for the production of allergic symptoms. The mechanism by which IgE antibodies develop is becoming clearer. The propensity to produce IgE is genetically determined, and pre-existing allergy may be a risk factor for the development of laboratory animal allergy (LAA). However, exposure to animal allergens is the major risk factor for the development of LAA. Techniques to measure the airborne concentration of laboratory animal allergens have been developed. Research on animal allergens themselves indicates that many of the mouse and rat urinary proteins belong to a family of proteins called lipocalins, which share sequence homology with antigens of the parasitic agent that causes schistosomiasis. The fact that parasite infections also trigger IgE antibody responses may account for the development of LAA in persons who have never had any previous allergy. The prevention of LAA should be a major goal of an effective health and safety program in the animal research facility, and it can be accomplished by education and training of employees, reduction of exposure (including the use of personal protective gear), and changes in facility design. Medical surveillance programs can also play a role in improving health of individuals working with laboratory research animals. Early recognition of symptoms and evidence of sensitization can lead to interventions to reduce exposure and thereby avoid the long-term health consequences of LAA.
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