Natural rubber latex glove use, sensitization and airborne and latent dust concentrations at a Denver Hospital*

by Elena H. Page, MD, MPH; Eric J. Esswein, MSPH; Martin R. Petersen, PhD; Daniel M. Lewis, PhD and Toni A. Bledsoe, MS

A study was conducted at a Denver hospital to reveal possible relationships between occupational latex exposure and latex sensitization. Although other studies have found connections between latex sensitization and factors such as occupational exposure, multiple surgeries and food allergies, this particular sample did not reveal any such relationships.

The study population consisted of regular users of latex gloves and nonusers, with a total of 532 participants. Information on personal and job characteristics, glove use and symptoms was gathered through self-administered questionnaires. Serum was tested for latex-specific immunoglobulin E. Air, surface and air-filter dust samples were collected and tested for amounts of natural rubber latex.

Of the total participants, 6.1% of latex glove users and 6.3% of nonusers were found to have latex sensitization. The findings did not show a significant connection between the use of latex gloves on a regular basis and latex allergy. There was also a lack of statistical evidence linking latex sensitization with food allergies or multiple surgeries. Because the number of people in the study with latex sensitization was relatively small, only 32 individuals, there may have been insufficient statistical power to detect a significant association between sensitization and certain health effects.

While occupational use of latex gloves was not found to be a risk factor for sensitization, there was a statistical connection found between latex glove use and hand urticaria, hand dermatitis and rhino-conjunctivitis. The study also showed a correlation between latex sensitization and employees who were atopic. 81.3% of sensitized workers were atopic, compared with 59.5% of nonsensitized workers.

*Article published in JOEM, June 2000, Vol. 42, No. 6