Background: The development of occupational asthma and allergic skin reactions caused by natural rubber latex (NRL) allergy are risks for health care workers. There are few published studies to suggest that intervention programs to reduce exposure will lead to primary prevention of sensitization.
Objective: This study assesses the effects of intervention to reduce the incidence of NRL allergy in personnel working in health care facilities insured by the German statutory accident insurance company for health care workers, Berufsgenossenschaft für Gesundheitsdienst und Wohlfahrtspflege, with approximately 3 million insured employees, by switching to powder-free NRL gloves.
Methods: The timing of introduction of intervention strategies, such as education of both physicians and administrators, together with regulations demanding that health care facilities only purchase low-protein, powder-free NRL gloves are reported. We reviewed the annual numbers of reported suspected cases of NRL-caused occupational allergies and the amount and type of gloves used in German acute-care hospitals since 1986.
Results: The purchase of powder-free NRL examination gloves exceeded that of powdered gloves for the first time in 1998. This only became true for powder-free NRL sterile gloves 2 years later in 2000. The incidence of suspected occupational NRL allergy cases rose until 1998 and has declined steadily since. There was a 2-year lag between the beginning of the decline in the purchase of powdered NRL examination gloves and the beginning of a decline in suspected NRL-caused occupational asthma cases.
Conclusions: Despite the effect of increased recognition of NRL allergies, education about NRL allergies in health care facilities combined with the introduction of powder-free gloves with reduced protein levels has been associated with a decline in the number of suspected cases of occupational allergies caused by NRL in Germany on a nationwide scale. These results clearly indicate that primary prevention of occupational NRL allergies can be achieved if these straightforward and practical interventions are properly carried out and maintained.