Background It has been established that there are type I and type IV allergens in latex gloves.
Objective The purpose of the study was to establish the prevalence of rubber glove-induced skin symptoms among health care workers in one Italian hospital.
Methods Health care workers (n = 1584) were evaluated using a written questionnaire and 295 respondents with glove-induced skin symptoms were tested. We performed: skin prick test with latex glove extract and commercial latex, and environmental and food allergens; glove use test; patch tests with a rubber additive series; and RASTs.
Results Hospital employees who used or had used latex gloves at work were 1294. Three hundred and sixteen (24.4%) reported glove-induced symptoms, namely, cutaneous symptoms in all the cases and non-cutaneous symptoms in 105 subjects (8.1%). Twenty-seven of the 295 symptomatic employees tested (9.1%) were latex sensitive. Thirty-one patients (10.5%) exhibited positive patch test to rubber-related allergens. The most positive readings were obtained from the Thiuram mix and the Carba mix, with 12 and 9 positivities, respectively. The risk factors for latex skin sensitization were: a previous history of atopy and asthma; history of surgery; pre-existing hand dermatitis; work-related symptoms; and positive skin tests to common inhalant and certain foods (P < 0.05). Subjects who exhibited positive patch test were significantly more likely to have a prior hand dermatitis (P < 0.001). Of the 295 cases, 275 (93.2%) were contact dermatitis (CD), 13 (4.4%) contact urticaria (CU) (including protein CD) and 7 (2.4%) CD associated with CU.
Conclusions Our results show a high prevalence of rubber glove-induced dermatoses among the employees in one Italian hospital. The majority of skin complaints of latex gloves are related to skin irritation rather than to allergy. The immediate allergy to latex and the delayed allergy to rubber chemicals suggest that all the health care workers with glove-related dermatitis should undergo both skin prick test and glove use test to detect type I hypersensitivity to latex, and patch test to detect type IV hypersensitivity to rubber chemicals.