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Asthma in animal handlers.

Tumpowsky CM
SENSOR Occup Lung Dis Bull 1999 Apr; :1-2
Laboratory workers, veterinarians and others who work with animals on a regular basis may be at risk for developing allergies and work-related asthma. Because Massachusetts has a large number of research laboratories where animals are used, a substantial worker population in the Commonwealth may be at risk. Since 1992, Massachusetts SENSOR has received 8 case reports of occupational asthma related to exposure to animals in laboratory settings. Recently, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released its alert, Preventing Asthma in Animal Handlers. This month we reprint their recommendations along with a substantial portion of the alert for your review. Massachusetts Case Reports: Case 1: A 22 year-old female worked as a lab technician harvesting mice embryos for a research facility. She developed wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath four months after she began working in the job. Case 2: A woman in her late twenties was diagnosed with work-related asthma after working for nine months in a laboratory for a pharmaceutical research facility. Her job duties involved taking blood samples from small animals such as mice, rats, and rabbits. Recommendations for Preventing Asthma in Animal Handlers: NIOSH recommends the following measures to reduce exposures to animal allergens in the workplace and prevent animal-induced asthma and allergies: 1. Modify ventilation and filtration systems: a) Increase the ventilation rate and humidity in animal-housing areas. b) Ventilate animal-housing and handling areas separately from the rest of the facility. c) Direct airflow away from workers and toward the backs of the animal cages. d) Install ventilated animal cage racks or filter-top animal cages. 2. Perform animal manipulations within ventilated hoods or safety cabinets when possible. 3. Decrease animal density (number of animals per cubic meter or room volume), 4. Avoid wearing street clothes while working with animals. Leave work clothes at the workplace to avoid potential exposure problems for family members. 5. Keep cages and animal areas clean. Take particular care to control exposures during cleaning. 6. Use absorbent pads for bedding. If these are unavailable, use corncob bedding instead of sawdust bedding. 7. Use an animal species or sex that is known to be less allergenic than others. 8. Reduce skin contact with animal products such as dander, serum, and urine by using gloves, lab coats, and approved particulate respirators with faceshields. 9. Provide training to educate workers about animal allergies and steps for risk reduction. 10. Provide health monitoring and appropriate counseling and medical follow-up for workers who have become sensitized or have developed allergy symptoms.
Occupational-health; Work-environment; Workers; Occupational-exposure; Respiratory-system-disorders; Pulmonary-system-disorders; Bronchial-asthma; Surveillance-programs; Health-hazards; Air-contamination; Indoor-air-pollution; Worker-health; Occupational-diseases; Animals; Laboratory-animals; Laboratory-workers; Case-studies; Health-care; Disease-prevention; Allergens; Allergic-reactions; Allergies; Allergic-disorders; Laboratories; Ventilation; Ventilation-systems; Humidity; Air-flow; Filtration; Ventilation-hoods; Absorbers; Personal-protective-equipment; Training
Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Occupational Health Surveillance Program, 250 Washington Street, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02108
Publication Date
Document Type
Funding Type
Cooperative Agreement
Fiscal Year
Identifying No.
Source Name
SENSOR Occupational Lung Disease Bulletin
Performing Organization
Massachusetts State Department of Public Health
Page last reviewed: April 1, 2022
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division