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Keywords:

  • allergy;
  • environmental allergens;
  • insects;
  • IgE immunoglobulins;
  • IgG immunoglobulins;
  • locusts;
  • occupational allergy;
  • occupational asthma

Background:  Recent reports of fatal asthma cases associated with swarms of locusts affecting African countries have highlighted the importance of this insect in causing asthma morbidity and mortality. However, only limited information is available about the allergic health outcomes such as asthma and its determinants in exposed individuals. In this study, workers exposed to the African migratory locust Locusta migratoria were evaluated for allergic health outcomes as well as the nature of the offending allergens.

Methods:  Ten scientists and technicians exposed to locusts in a laboratory were investigated for locust-related allergy using questionnaires and immunological tests. The presence of allergy was determined by quantification of specific IgE and IgG to L. migratoria using the UniCAP® system and via skin-prick testing (SPT). The allergens were characterized by Western blot and ImmunoCAP inhibition assays.

Results:  Six of the 10 workers experienced symptoms ranging from urticaria and rhinoconjuctivitis to asthma. Seven individuals demonstrated sensitivity on SPT and five had specific IgE antibodies to L. migratoria. Significant cross-reactivity was demonstrated for allergens in the locust faeces, body and wings but not to cockroach allergens. Novel allergens with molecular weights of approximately 70 kDa were identified in locust wings, which are distinctly different from other known allergen sources from locusts.

Conclusion:  Exposure to L. migratoria allergens is a potential sensitizer in exposed individuals. Raised levels of locust-specific IgE can be readily quantified. The wings of this insect species have been identified as a novel allergen source.