Laboratory Animal Allergens

By Bob Colichio

Laboratory workers who have regular contact with animals may develop laboratory animal allergies (LAA). LAA may affect people who have not previously experienced allergies. Epidemiological studies have shown that the greater the exposure to animal allergens, the more likely one will become sensitized and deŽvelop symptoms. People with pre-existing allergies also have a greater chance of developing asthma over non-allergic workers.

Airborne allergens are the most common causes of LAA. Research animals such as rats, mice, and rabbits produce allergens in their urine, saliva, hair, pelt and dander. Laboratory researchers have frequent exposure to these animal by-products via inhalation and through direct skin and eye contact. Other possible routes of entry, such as percutaneous exposures, may occur as a result of animal bites or needle sticks.

The highest exposure rates typically occur in handlers responsible for cage cleaning and animal feeding. Staff members who have intermittent contact with animals such as technicians, students, and investigators were found to have a lower rate of LAA.

Symptoms of LAA are similar to other allergies and include itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, rhinorrhea (runny nose), skin rashes, and hives. Lower respiratory symptoms may also occur giving rise to shortness of breath and asthma. Many LAA cases can be prevented by exploring methods to minimize allerŽgen exposure, including combining en-gineering and administrative controls, and by using the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Engineering controls include:

  • Adequate ventilation to reduce airborne hazards
  • The use of ventilated hoods or safety cabinets whenever possible.

Administrative controls include:

  • Frequent cleaning of animal rooms/areas employing the wet method technique
  • Following standard operating procedures
  • Covering cages while transporting animals
  • Maintaining hygienic work practices

Standard safe work practices include:

  • Wearing appropriate PPE which may include lab coats, gloves and N-95 respirators
  • Practicing frequent hand washing, and showering after work
  • Wearing scrubs or coveralls rather than street clothes
  • Avoid direct skin contact


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Last Modified: May 18, 2009
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DOE, Office of Science One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE's Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by the Research Foundation for the State University of New York on behalf of Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

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