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Exposure to formaldehyde and phenol during an anatomy dissecting course: sensitizing potency of formaldehyde in medical students


Felix Wantke, MD Dermatologic and Pediatric Allergy Clinic Franz Jonas Platz 8/6
A-1210 Vienna


Background: The sensitizing potency of formaldehyde and phenol during anatomy dissecting was investigated. The objective was to determine whether exposure induces specific IgE or IgG against formaldehyde-albumin or phenol-albumin.

Methods: In 27 medical students, specific IgE against formaldehyde-albumin by RAST plus ELISA and specific lgE against phenol-albumin by ELISA were assessed. In addition, specific IgG against formaldehyde-albumin was assessed in 23 students. Symptoms before and during dissecting were assessed, and indoor formaldehyde and phenol were measured.

Results: Mean indoor formaldehyde was 0.265±0.07 mg/m3, and mean indoor phenol was 4.65±2.96 mg/m3. Specific IgE/IgG against formaldehyde-albumin was not found at the beginning. Four students developed specific IgE against formaldehyde-albumin (RAST classes of ≥2.0), and all four also had specific IgE in the ELISA, but IgG against formaldehyde-albumin was not found. Specific IgE against phenol-albumin was not seen. Itch and paresthesia of the hands (PP<0.00001), dizziness (P<0.008), burning eyes (P<0.01), headache, sneezing, epistaxis, gingival bleeding, oral or pharyngeal itch, and shortness of breath were experienced.

Conclusion: Formaldehyde exposure during dissecting may induce specific IgE, but not IgG, against formaldehyde-albumin. Sensitization did not correlate with symptoms.