Occupational egg allergy in an embryological research facility

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Abstract

Background

Hen and quail eggs are commonly used in embryological research. While immunoglobin E (IgE)-associated allergy to hens’ egg proteins is recognized in employees in the food industry, there are no previous reports from workers in embryological research. Two newly identified cases prompted us to examine the extent of this problem in a university laboratory.

Aims

To determine the prevalence and determinants of sensitization to egg among a group of workers in an embryological research laboratory.

Methods

Following the identification of egg sensitization in two research workers, we surveyed 116 employees from a single embryology research laboratory in 2005. Sensitization to egg was assessed by skin prick tests and/or specific IgE measurement and examined in relation to a number of potential determinants, including the extent of appropriate control measures.

Results

Four employees were sensitized to egg, each with digestive symptoms of egg allergy. All had worked directly with eggs, giving a prevalence of specific sensitization in that group of 6.1% (95% confidence interval (CI) [1.7%, 14.8%]). There was a statistically significant trend for those sensitized to report a shorter duration of exposure to eggs and less frequent use of hygiene control measures to reduce exposure.

Conclusions

Sensitization to eggs among those occupationally exposed to egg protein in research work occurs more commonly than in the general population. The presence of digestive symptoms after eating eggs may be indicative of sensitization to egg and should be incorporated into health evaluation of exposed workers.

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