3 - Employee Illness



It is estimated that 10-44% of persons having direct contact with animals develop allergies to them. Up to 73% of persons with pre-existing allergies will develop allergies to laboratory animals. Evidence also suggests that persons with a prior history of allergies are more likely to develop severe symptoms (asthma) from animal exposure. Early signs may include mild upper respiratory difficulties such as sneezing, rhinitis (runny nose), and conjunctivitis (swollen eyelids, watery eyes). The symptoms may progress to more serious respiratory problems such as asthma or anaphylaxis. Hives or skin rash can also occur. Persons developing allergies after having worked with animals should contact their supervisor and through him or her seek medical help for control and/or treatment of this condition. Proper use of recommended apparel (gloves, masks, and laboratory clothing) will greatly reduce the development of animal-related allergies, and therefore should be provided and used. Due to the wide range of severity involving animal related allergies, each case will be handled as an individual case involving appropriate medical recommendations.

Recommended Reading: 
NIOSH/Asthma in Animal Handlers Alert 
Nat’l Academies Press, Occupational Health and Safety in the Care and Use of Research Animals (1997), ALLERGENS

Cutaneous Infections:

Personnel with cutaneous bacterial infections who have direct contact with animals should be relieved of work upon recommendation of Student/Employee Health Service. This is particularly true of employees with open or draining skin lesions, such as those caused by Staphylococcus. These employees are likely to be infectious and should not be in contact with animals until the skin lesions are adequately treated and healed. There is normally no benefit in obtaining routine nasal cultures for staphylococci since the carrier rate is so high among the general population. However, in persistent staphylococcal infections, it might be important to attempt to determine the nasal colonization status and treat this, if possible. Dermatomycosis (ringworm) is another skin disease that may be transmitted by animals. It is characterized by pruritic (itchy), circular, red scaled lesions.

Rabbits and Rodents:

The majority of rabbits and rodents used at UM are acquired from vendors having breeding colonies free of human and animal pathogens. This further decreases the chance of contracting an infectious disease from these animals. The most significant hazards associated with these animals are the possibility of developing or exacerbating an allergy, and being bitten or scratched. Nevertheless, precautions should be taken to prevent exposure to diseases such as toxoplasmosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM), salmonellosis, rat bite fever, and tapeworm infection. Wild rodents can carry those diseases as well as hanta virus, leptosporosis, and bubonic plague. Wild rabbits can also carry tularemia.

Other infectious diseases and health concerns with possible zoonoses transmission should be reviewed by the Student/Employee Health Service in consultation with the Attending Veterinarian. You should always inform your health care provider that you work with animals so they will be aware of the potential for zoonotic diseases.