Section 4: Animal and Latex Allergies

Animal Allergy

Allergic reaction to animals is among the most common condition that adversely affects worker health. The estimated prevalence of allergic symptoms among workers exposed to animals is from 10% to 40%. Workers who are continually exposed to animal allergen tend to have progressively more frequent and severe symptoms, and an estimated 10% develop asthma. Hence, it is critical that all workers seek to minimize their exposure to animal allergens. Additionally, once animal allergy develops, the affected worker should minimize any additional allergen exposure to prevent progression of allergy symptoms.

Allergy is most often manifested by nasal symptoms (allergic rhinitis), itchy eyes (allergic conjunctivitis), and rashes (contact urticaria, atopy). Symptoms usually evolve over a period of 1-2 years and may lead to acute anaphylaxis in a small number of patients.

  • In rodents, the allergen protein is of urinary origin and
  • In rabbits is contained in the fur and dander and to a lesser degree in the saliva and urine.
  • In guinea pigs, urine is the main allergen with dander, fur, and saliva contributing.
  • Exposure to birds can cause rhinitis and asthma symptoms.
  • Multiple bird proteins have been identified as allergens and can be found in serum and fecal droppings that contain serum.
  • Fish proteins can be an inhalation allergen for those who are sensitized.

Prudent efforts to prevent allergen exposure and reduce the frequency of sensitization in animal workers require strict work practices and consistent use of PPE. Housing animals in filter-top cages, working in well-ventilated areas, and using ventilated hoods for soiled bedding disposal will minimize exposure to animal allergens.

The work area must be maintained clean to prevent inhalant and contact exposure. Procedures should be adopted that minimize release of airborne materials, including bedding dust and antibiotic aerosols, and the contamination of hands, arms, body and face. Workers should adopt the use of PPE during each and every animal contact or allergen exposure. Wearing PPE "just some of the time" will not prevent exposure. Of particular importance is wearing a face mask to reduce inhalation and hand-to-face spread of allergens and covering all exposed skin (i.e. gloves, lab coat, sleeve protectors) to prevent allergen contact.

It is also important that once animal procedures are complete, all contaminated PPE and clothing are removed and properly disposed of to prevent repeated exposure while performing subsequent duties. Contact your supervisor or EHS for further information and access to approved PPE devices.

Latex Gloves and Related Allergies

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,

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:

  • If latex gloves must be used, choose reduced-protein, powder-free latex gloves.
  • Whenever possible, substitute another glove material.
  • Wash hands with mild soap and water after removing latex gloves

Decontamination Procedures

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 forms, 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 and concentration.

In Baylor University animal facilities, decontamination is accomplished by use of:

  • provided disinfectants applied to surfaces and equipment;
  • by chemical sterilants and steam heat sterilization in an autoclave;
  • and by use of the cage and rack washing machines located in the animal facility

You should be familiar with the safe and proper use of all chemical decontamination materials and equipment which you need to use as part of your animal lab responsibilities.

Animal Laboratory Waste

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.

  • Soiled animal bedding is placed by the animal care staff in sturdy plastic bags, sealed, and transferred to carts for movement from the facility. Bags of soiled bedding should be limited to 40 pounds to prevent back and shoulder injury during subsequent handling. The animal care staff is responsible for movement of the bedding carts to the trash compactor located outside the building.
  • Animal carcasses are bagged, sealed, and stored in freezers located in each animal facility until pick up by the vendor for incineration.
  • All sharps are disposed of in provided sharps containers and, when full, placed in the red bag-lined medical waste box.
  • All other biologically-contaminated material is placed in the red bag-lined medical waste box. When the medical waste box is full, it is the responsibility of the laboratory staff to seal the bag, seal the box, and apply a label completed with information about the generating lab.

See Appendix B, Preventing Asthma in Animal Handlers

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