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Efficacy of measures of hygiene in workers sensitised to acid anhydrides and the influence of selection bias on the results.
  1. H Drexler,
  2. K H Schaller,
  3. J Nielsen,
  4. A Weber,
  5. M Weihrauch,
  6. H Welinder,
  7. S Skerfving
  1. Department of Occupational Medicine of the Technical University of Aachen, Germany.


    OBJECTIVES: Organic acid anhydrides are potential sensitisers and cause occupational airway diseases. In an intervention study the efficacy of measures of hygiene at the workplace and possible selection bias were investigated. METHODS: A first investigation with 110 workers exposed to hexahydrophthalic acid anhydride (HHPA) and methyltetrahydrophthalic acid anhydride (MTHPA) was carried out in July 1991. The results (skin prick test, specific serum IgE) showed that 20 people were sensitised, and in a challenge test the clinical relevance of the sensitisation was confirmed in six subjects. In December 1991, the hygiene conditions at the plant were improved. In November 1995 a second investigation of 84 people was performed (anamnesis, skin prick test, specific IgE, spirometry, and ambient and biological monitoring). The 27 people who had left the plant in the meantime were asked their reasons for leaving. RESULTS: The relative risk of people sensitised in 1991 of leaving the plant between 1991 and 1995 was 2.6 (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.4 to 4.9) compared with people without any sign of sensitisation. The percentage of people identified as sensitised in 1991, who were still working at the plant and came to the second investigation, was higher than for people without evidence of sensitisation (10/10 v 47/73; p < 0.05). In all the 10 sensitised people in 1991 the findings of the first investigation were confirmed in 1995. The rate of sensitisation in 1995 was 21%. None of the six people employed after 1991 showed evidence of sensitisation. Of the six people with clinically relevant sensitisation confirmed by a challenge test in 1991, five were still at their workplace. From 1991 they were only exposed to MTHPA at a reduced concentration (< 0.5-36 micrograms/m3 in 1995). All of them reported fewer symptoms than in 1991. No signs of bronchial obstruction were detected by spirometry at the workplace. CONCLUSIONS: In cross sectional studies there is a selection bias with a risk of underestimating the incidence of allergic diseases. The results further suggest that the improved hygiene conditions probably had a positive effect on the symptoms in sensitised people.

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