OBJECTIVES--To assess the prevalence of atopy in a vocational school so as to evaluate the feasibility of pre-employment screening. METHODS--The prevalence of atopy by family diathesis, prick tests, immunoglobulin E (IgE) concentrations, and personal history of allergic respiratory diseases was investigated in 144 trainee bakers and 81 students on a graphic artists course (mean age 15.4 years). Skin sensitisation to wheat, rye, and barley flours, to alpha amylase, and to storage mites was also evaluated. RESULTS--Personal allergic symptoms were reported by 13.2% of the bakers and 14.7% of the graphic artists and there was a significant association between symptoms and atopy by prick tests (odds ratio (OR) 17.2; 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 5.27-56.4) and by family history (OR 3.11; 95% CI 1.02-9.53). When bakers were grouped according to the presence of allergic symptoms and results of immunological tests, 6.9% had asthma, 6.3% had rhinoconjunctivitis, and a high percentage (28.5%) were without symptoms but scored positive on prick tests or family symptoms. Skin sensitisation to storage mites had similar prevalences (16%) in the two groups of trainees and occurred nearly always in atopic people. Positive skin tests to wheat flour (3.5%), rye (0.7%), and alpha amylase (0.7%) were specific to bakers. CONCLUSIONS--Pre-employment screening is a useful source of medical information and allows for counseling. The presence of asthma, or of another allergic disease in a severe form, is suggested as a criterion for excluding students of a vocational school from training as bakers. Student bakers without allergic symptoms but atopic by other criteria should be informed about their risks of developing occupational asthma, and periodic check ups must be recommended. Screening studies in vocational school provide a better understanding of specificity of skin sensitisation to occupational allergens.
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