Findings are presented from the initial cross sectional phase of a cohort study of employees exposed to laboratory rats. Of 366 eligible workers at four sites 323 (88%) were surveyed; symptoms assessed by self completed questionnaire and sensitisation measured by the response to skin prick tests were related to intensity of exposure both to total dust and to rat urinary aeroallergen. Among 238 workers, without previous occupational exposure to rats, work related symptoms, which started after first employment at the site were related to exposure intensity (expressed either in terms of dust or of aeroallergen) at the time of onset of symptoms. These relations were stronger in atopic subjects but were unrelated to smoking. Positive skin tests to rat urinary extract were also more frequent with increased exposure, a relation found in both atopic subjects and in smokers. There was a strong association between work related symptoms and specific sensitisation.
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