Background: Natural rubber latex has become an important occupational health concern, particularly among health care workers, who for protection are required to wear latex gloves when at work. This study evaluated the prevalence of latex-related symptoms and sensitisation among a large group of health care workers in Trieste hospitals.
Methods: We evaluated the prevalence of latex-related symptoms in 1,165 health care workers, by means of a questionnaire, a medical examination, skin prick tests and IgE-specific evaluation. We determined atopy and latex sensitivity by skin prick tests using a battery of common inhalant allergens, a commercial latex extract (Lofarma Allergeni, Milan) and individual skin puncture tests for each of the vegetables immunologically related to latex (potato, tomato, chestnut, banana, kiwi fruit). Associations between potential risk factors for latex allergy were assessed.
Results: Glove-related symptoms were noticed on 17.2% of the nurses (200) the majority of symptoms being mild dermatitis with itching and erythema (120 subjects, 11.1%). Symptoms suggestive of IgE-mediated latex allergy were found in 51 subjects: 35 (3%) complained of contact urticaria and 16 (2.2%) complained of asthma and/or rhinitis. The resulting symptoms were significantly related to skin prick tests that were positive to latex (odds ratio (OR) = 11.89; 6.40-22.2), to personal atopy (OR = 2.15; 1.47-3.12), to familiar atopy (OR = 2.12; 1.48-3.03), to skin prick test positivity to related fruit (OR = 2.01; 1.16-3.46) but not to prick test positivity to common inhalant allergens (OR = 1.00; 0.71-1.39). Symptoms increased as a direct function of the time-usage of latex gloves and were more prevalent in operating room staff.
Conclusion: In this large cross-sectional study, glove-related symptoms and latex skin sensitisation appear to be substantial among health care workers, and are related to common signs of atopy. We stress the need of preventive measures to avoid latex exposure when health care workers are at risk of developing allergy symptoms.