Background: IgE-mediated hypersensitivity to latex proteins has become a significant clinical problem over the last decade. Nursing and medical staff are at risk because of their occupational exposure to latex.
Aims: To determine the prevalence of type I hypersensitivity to latex allergens in the nursing staff of an Australian hospital.
Methods: A questionnaire which asked about symptoms associated with the use of latex gloves was completed by 140 nurses working in the Alfred Hospital (72 in general medical wards, 68 in intensive care units). Skin prick tests with eluates of five different types of latex glove as well as common aeroallergens (rye pollen and house dust mite) and banana extract were performed.
Results: Thirty-one nurses (22%) were skin prick test positive to at least one of the five latex glove eluates. All of these nurses were atopic, having positive skin prick tests to rye pollen or house dust mite. Symptoms of local dryness, itch and erythema associated with glove use were reported by more than half the study group, but not more frequently by those who were skin prick test positive to latex. Urticaria associated with glove use was reported more frequently by those with positive latex skin prick tests (13% vs 4%, p = 0.05). Eighty-seven per cent of the nurses who were latex skin test positive were also positive to banana extract.
Conclusions: IgE-mediated hypersensitivity to latex is common in nurses working in an Australian hospital. Glove associated symptoms were frequently reported, but in most cases the symptoms were more typical of irritant or contact dermatitis rather than type I hypersensitivity reactions. However, the extent of subclinical sensitisation to latex found in this study suggests that symptomatic latex allergy is likely to emerge as an increasing problem for nursing staff in this country.