Did you know that approximately 33 percent of people exposed to laboratory animals as part of their job develop symptoms of allergies? And, about 10 percent of exposed individuals have symptoms of animal-induced asthma?
Animal allergens are proteins present in animal dander, fur, saliva, and body waste that can produce allergic reactions, such as itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, congestion, itching, skin rashes, and hives. More severe symptoms may include asthma-like reactions including chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, or even life-threatening swelling of the upper airways and shock.
Inhalation is the most common route of exposure for an animal allergen. Inhalation can occur if the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is not worn, if that PPE is defective, or if approved protocols are not followed. Cleaning cages and feeding are the jobs that generate the highest amounts of allergen exposure.
It is important to develop and implement work practices that limit the exposure to animal allergens to both prevent allergies from developing as well as protect employees with established allergies. A standard practice to follow when dumping cages is to use a certified dump station to greatly reduce the potential for exposure to allergens. Implementing a mandatory N95 respirator program should be considered to proactively protect employees.