Environmental conditions such as ventilation and air recirculation significantly impact the development of latex allergy, according to a study by Diane Foster, RN, and colleagues from the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Northwestern University.
The study was carried out to determine the prevalence of latex hypersensitivity in three Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and to evaluate environmental factors, which may have modified that sensitivity.
Employees at the two VA hospitals were evaluated for latex sensitivity via questionnaires and allergy testing.
Workers were considered sensitive based on their histories and test results.
One hospital had a latex sensitivity rate of 4 percent, the second hospital had a sensitivity rate of 0.5 to 1 percent and the third hospital had a sensitivity rate of 2 percent.
Evaluation of the hospitals was carried out in an attempt to explain the differences.
After examining glove usage, staff changes and turnover, it was determined that the differences among these variables were not significant enough to explain the discrepancy in sensitization.
Investigation into the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems of the hospitals demonstrated major differences.
The first hospital with the highest prevalence of latex sensitivity had an air recirculation system.
The second hospital with the lowest prevalence had a fresh air intake system, which drew air in from the outside, circulated it throughout the building and exhausted it outside with no recirculation.
The third hospital, with an average level of latex sensitivity, had a mix of recirculated and non-recirculated air.
The results of this study led researchers to conclude that ventilation and recirculation play a key role in the exposure necessary for the development of latex allergy.
by Virginia Sutcliffe