OBJECTIVES: To describe the levels of exposure to fungal alpha-amylase in British bakeries and flour mills, and to describe the relation between exposure to alpha-amylase and sensitisation to fungal alpha-amylase. METHODS: 495 personal flour dust samples were taken in seven British bakeries and flour mills and analysed for alpha-amylase with an immunoassay. Workers at the sites were asked to fill out questionnaires on work related symptoms, smoking history, and work history, and they were skin prick tested with common allergens and fungal alpha-amylase to assess sensitisation. RESULTS: Exposure to high concentrations of alpha-amylase occur in a few areas of British bakeries and flour mills, and there can be considerable differences in exposures to alpha-amylase between sites and between exposure groups, and even within similar exposure groups from different sites. Exposure to the highest concentrations of alpha-amylase was found in the dispensing and mixing areas of the bakeries (geometric mean (GM) 39.7 ng/m3). Exposure to alpha-amylase showed only a moderate correlation with concentrations of dust (r = 0.42) and flour aeroallergen (r = 0.46). The results also showed a relation between exposure to alpha-amylase and sensitisation to fungal alpha-amylase (prevalence ratio (PR) for medium exposure 3.9, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.8 to 20.2, PR for high exposure 9.9, 95% CI 2.8 to 34.6) compared with the low exposure category). Atopic subjects had an increased risk of sensitisation, but this was not significant. CONCLUSION: This study suggests that exposure to alpha-amylase is a considerable health risk in British bakeries and flour mills. A small proportion of workers are exposed to alpha-amylase at concentrations that result in high rates of sensitisation. A reduction in exposure to alpha-amylase is likely to reduce this risk.
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