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Keywords:

  • cross-reactivity;
  • laboratory animal allergy;
  • occupational allergy;
  • rat and mouse urinary allergens

Background:  Sensitization to rats and mice can develop in laboratory animal workers exposed to only one species. Reasons for this dual sensitization are unclear but may reflect a genetic predisposition to developing allergy (atopy) or alternatively cross-reactivity between rat and mouse urinary allergens. We examined cross-reactivity between rat and mouse urine and the effect atopy has on dual sensitization in laboratory animal workers.

Methods:  In a cross-sectional study the frequency of sensitization to rat and/or mouse was analysed in 498 employees exposed to both rat and mouse at work and 220 to rat only. RAST inhibitions, western blots and blot inhibitions were carried out on a subset of five individuals to assess cross-reactivity.

Results:  Fourteen per cent of workers were sensitized to rats and 9% to mouse. Over half (62%) of rat sensitized individuals were also mouse sensitized and the majority (91%) of mouse sensitized individuals were also rat sensitized. IgE cross-reactivity was demonstrated between rat and mouse urine using RAST inhibitions. Rates of atopy did not differ between rat only sensitized individuals compared with those sensitized to both species. Sensitization to cats and rabbits was more common amongst those with dual sensitization.

Conclusions:  Dual sensitization to rat and mouse reflects IgE cross-reactivity rather than atopy. Individuals with dual sensitization are more likely to be sensitized to other animal allergens. These findings will have implications for individuals working with only one rodent species who develop sensitization and symptoms to be aware of the potential for allergy to other species.