Laboratory-animal allergy (LAA) is a well-known occupational hazard to workers employed in biological or medical research institutes and in the pharmaceutical industry. The aim of this study was to focus on the problem of LAA and to assess factors predisposing to sensitization among subjects occupationally exposed to animals. Sixty workers were examined in our study. They responded to a questionnaire and underwent spirometry (Vital Capacity, VC and Forced Expiratory Volume in one second, FEV1). In addition, Peak Expiratory Flow (PEF) and the histamine provocation test were estimated in 5 subjects that had been hospitalized in the Department of Occupational Diseases. Skin prick tests with common allergens and with hair extracts from laboratory animals were performed, and total IgE levels and specific IgE antibodies were also measured. Among 60 subjects who had been working with animals, 26 had positive skin prick tests for one or more of the common allergens. Five subjects supposed to have occupational bronchial asthma and four with occupational allergic rhinitis showed positive skin prick tests for one or more animal allergens, increased total IgE levels and specific serum IgE antibodies. All these subjects had smoked for years.
Conclusions: 1) Laboratory animal allergy develops within first years of exposure; 2) atopy and smoking predispose to laboratory animal sensitization and to a development of bronchial asthma and allergic rhinitis.