Background: Protection against thrips, a common pest in bell pepper horticulture is effectively possible without pesticides by using the commercially available predatory mite Amblyzeius cucumeris (Ac). The prevalence of sensitization to Ac among exposed greenhouse employees and its clinical relevance was studied.
Methods: Four hundred and seventytwo employees were asked to fill in a questionnaire and were tested on location. Next to RAST, skin prick tests (SPTs) were performed with common inhalant allergens, the storage mite Tyrophagus putrescentiae (Tp) which serves as a temporary food source during the cultivation process and Ac. Furthermore, nasal challenge tests with Ac were carried out in 23 sensitized employees.
Results: SPTs positive to Ac were found in 109 employees (23%). Work-related symptoms were reported by 76.1%. Sensitization to Tp was found in 62 employees of whom 48 were also sensitized to Ac. Immunoglobulin (Ig)E-mediated allergy to inhalant allergens appeared to be an important risk factor for sensitization to Ac. Employees with rhinitis symptoms showed a significantly higher response to all Ac doses during the nasal challenge test compared with employees without rhinitis symptoms.
Conclusions: The predatory mite Ac is a new occupational allergen in horticulture which can cause an IgE-mediated allergy in exposed employees. It is biologically active on the mucous membranes of the nose and therefore clinically relevant for the development of work-related symptoms.