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Editor—We read with interest the cross sectional study of latex allergy of workers in a United Kingdom hospital.1 We have also tried to study healthcare workers in a district general hospital and have had problems with the response rate for skin prick testing and also blood taking. We have, however, used standardised and evaluated skin prick test materials from Stallergen (1:200) and the Pharmacia CAP for latex and have found a high percentage of symptomatic workers with positive skin tests and specific IgE. We also found that workers in general wards were exposed to as much airborne latex as those in operating theatres, accident and emergency, and intensive care, areas which we previously thought of as high exposure. Median concentrations of latex in air were 0.44 μg/m3 in our high exposure areas and 0.48 μg/m3 in our lower exposure areas, perhaps because lower quality gloves were used in the general medical wards.
We obtained questionnaires from 73% of our sample workers but only 60% response from symptomatic workers who were invited for skin prick testing and blood taking. There were a few significant differences between groups but there was a greater relation between the number of gloves worn a day than the hours of glove wearing. Work related symptoms relative to glove use are shown in the table.
Seven of 48 symptomatic workers had at least a 3 mm weal to the latex allergen and nine had positive RAST (>0.7 ku/l). All skin prick positive workers had itching skin, four out of seven had eye irritation, two out of seven wheeze, and three out of seven rhinitis.
Any study of this sort is likely to miss the most severely affected workers who cannot tolerate latex at present in the air in ordinary hospital environments.
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