Allergies are an important risk associated with animals. Over 40% of people routinely working with animals develop allergic symptoms. More than 70% of people with pre-existing allergic disease eventually develop allergy to laboratory animals over a period of 1-2 years, most commonly manifested as rhinitis, itchy eyes, and rashes. An estimated 10% of laboratory workers eventually develop occupationally-related asthma. Laboratory animal workers should undergo screening to identify those at risk and participate in a monitoring program. If you develop symptoms of job-related animal allergies, report to your supervisor and to the Occupational Health Services to obtain appropriate care.
Rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits and cats are probably among the most important inducers of allergies in laboratory animal workers. Allergens present in the urine, saliva, fur, dander, bedding and other unknown sources are aerosolized during handling of the animals, clipping hair, cage changing, dumping bedding and cleaning the animal rooms. Personal protective equipment such as laboratory coats, gloves, face masks, respiratory equipment, biosafety cabinets and dump stations reduce the risk of developing allergies. Individuals who are already sensitized for example due to allergies to domestic cats are in the highest risk category.
The following practices may help reduce your exposure to animal allergens:
- Perform animal manipulations in a ventilated hood or a biosafety cabinet.
- Make sure that the animal room or other work area is adequately ventilated and that all the air handling equipment in the room is functioning properly.
- Don’t wear your street clothes when working with animals.
- Wear protective clothing at work and leave them there.
- Reduce skin contact with animals by wearing gloves and long-sleeved lab coats.
- Shower or wash your hands, face and neck before leaving the work area.
- Avoid touching your face while working with animals and animal equipment.
- Keep animal cages and your work area clean.