Food Handlers' Gloves Trigger Latex Allergy

A case study shows that food exposed to latex may cause allergic reactions.

Food that is exposed to latex -- a common allergen -- may cause similar allergic reactions as latex products themselves, according to a new case study.

In this week's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, two Boston researchers reported on the case of a woman who suffered allergic reactions as a result of foods she ate in restaurants or purchased in markets where the food was handled by employees wearing latex gloves.

Dr. William Franklin of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Josephine Pandolfo, a dentist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center concluded that food workers should follow the lead set by the healthcare field and eliminate all products made of latex.

Latex is found in as many as 40,000 consumer products, including balloons, athletic shoe soles, tires and pacifiers. Additionally, latex rubber can be found in many medical supplies, including disposable gloves, intravenous tubes, syringes and bandages.

At least 1 percent of people in the United States have latex allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI).

The first sign of latex allergy is usually a poison ivy-like rash that appears 12 to 36 hours after contact with latex. Itching, redness, swelling, sneezing, and wheezing may also occur, according to the AAAAI.

According the report, the woman, a periodontist, first developed latex allergy "about five years after she began using latex gloves routinely in her work."

As a result, she removed all latex products from her office. However, during the past seven years, she noticed her symptoms would recur when she ate food from restaurants where food handlers wore latex gloves, according to the report.

"She did not have a reaction to these same foods when they had not come in contact with latex," said Franklin and Pandolfo.

To test the theory, the researchers asked the woman to drink orange juice on two different occasions. On one occasion, the juice was stirred with a latex glove.

"Within 35 minutes after drinking the juice stirred with latex, she had wheezing, tightness of the chest, and flushing of the face and lips," reported the researchers.

She was immediately treated with medications to alleviate these symptoms.

"The elimination of latex, which is already underway in the healthcare environment, should also be extended to the food-handling environment, to protect consumers," concluded Franklin and Pandolfo.

For more information on how to prevent latex allergy, visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Web site at www.cdc.gov/ niosh/latexpr.html

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