BACKGROUND: Sensitization to occupational allergens is frequently found in laboratory animal workers (LAWs) and can cause serious health problems. Atopy is a major risk factor for sensitization, but it is considered insufficient to advise against working with animals. OBJECTIVE: We investigated whether immunologic measures, including serology and cytokine production profiles of blood cells, and parameters for airway inflammation are associated with the development of occupational sensitization. METHODS: In a prospective cohort study 110 starting LAWs were followed for 2 years. At inclusion, results of health questionnaires, skin test results, lung function measures, methacholine threshold levels, and nasal lavage fluid were obtained. Blood was taken for measuring total IgE and allergen-specific IgE antibodies. Cytokine production profiles were measured in whole blood. RESULTS: Twenty-two new cases of sensitization were identified during follow-up. In multivariate logistic regression analysis a model including atopy and total IgE level predicted sensitization best. This was corroborated in a separate validation cohort. Parameters for airway inflammation or cytokine production profiles did not further contribute to the prediction of sensitization. Based on these results, pre-employment counseling aimed at applicant LAWs with atopy and a total IgE level of greater than 100 IU/mL might be able to reduce occupational sensitization by up to 45% to 50% with less than 10% false-positive predictions. CONCLUSION: The combination of atopy and total IgE level offered the best model to predict development of occupational sensitization. Other immunologic parameters and parameters of airway inflammation did not contribute significantly
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