Background The prevalence of latex allergy in healthcare workers in Asian populations is unknown.
Methods We studied 1472 employees in a teaching hospital in Hong Kong using written questionnaires and 133 respondents underwent skin prick testing to latex glove eluates and common allergens.
Results Glove-related symptoms were common and 455 (30.9%) reported one or more symptoms, the majority of which could be classified as glove dermatitis (GD). On the other hand, symptoms suggestive of latex allergy such as urticaria, rhinitis, wheeze and asthma, were encountered less frequently and were noted by 3.3%. In particular, one developed asthma and two had wheezing, but there was no report of anaphylaxis. A total of 9.9% reported allergic symptoms from contact with other latex devices, in particular, rubber bands, rubber boots, goggles and swimming. Nine subjects (6.8%) had positive skin test to one or more of the five latex extracts. All were atopic to common allergens. Skin test positivity to latex and banana extracts was positively correlated (P < 0.05). In univariate logistic regression, daily glove use, personal history of allergic disease and history of allergic symptoms to latex-containing devices other than gloves were significant risk factors for both GD and LA. Nurses were more likely to complain of GD and workers with positive skin test to latex were 8.6 times more likely to have symptoms of LA. In multiple logistic regression, the remaining significant associations were between history of daily glove use and GD (OR = 50.11, 95% CI 15.88–158.13), and between positive latex skin test and LA (OR = 8.14, 95% CI 1.27–52.36).
Conclusion Glove-related symptoms are common in healthcare workers in Hong Kong. Gloved healthcare workers are at risk of becoming sensitized to latex, and those with positive latex skin tests, long glove exposure time and frequent glove changes are at risk of clinical latex allergy.