Laboratory Animal Allergy (LAA) - OHS Information Sheet

January 2019

Monash University is committed to providing staff and students with a healthy and safe environment for work and study.

What is a Laboratory Animal Allergy (LAA)?

An allergy is an exaggerated reaction by the body's immune system, most frequently to proteins. In the case of a laboratory animal allergy, the proteins most commonly associated with allergic reactions are found in animal's urine, salivia, and dander.

Symptoms of LAA may include:

  1. Rashes and itchiness of the skin.
  2. Watering and redness of the eyes.
  3. Sneezing, dry and sore throat.
  4. Cough with asthma-like symptoms.

Anyone who has regular contact with laboratory animals has the potential to develop allergies to them. Although those workers who have had a personal history of asthma, seasonal allergies, and dermatitis are at increased risk, individuals with no prior history of allergies and only brief work exposures can also develop allergic reactions to laboratory animals. Most workers who develop allergic reactions to laboratory animals will do so within one to two years of working with them.

Important considerations to note:

  • Continued exposure, may increase the severity of symptoms
  • Infrequently, sensitisation may occur and this can pose a significant health risk
  • Early contact with the Occupational Health Team is required

Which laboratory animals are associated with allergic reactions?

Most species of animals used in research have been identified as a source of allergic symptoms. Because mice and rats are the animals most frequently used in research studies, there are more reported allergies to rodents than any other laboratory animals.

What can be done to reduce the risk of developing an allergic reaction to laboratory animals?

The best approach for reducing the likelihood of developing an allergic reaction is to eliminate or minimise exposure to the proteins found in animal urine,saliva, and dander. A comprehensive risk assessment and implementation of appropriate control measures should be undertaken prior to working with animals.

Guiding documentation is available in Using Biologicals and Animals at Monash University and the Risk Management Program.

Consideration of the following points may assist in this process:

  • Reduce the frequency and time spent with animals in high-density rooms
  • Reduce airborne allergens when cleaning cages (i.e. wet cleaning)
  • Ensure adequate ventilation
  • Adhere to safe work instructions
  • Wear appropriate personal protection

Personal protective equipment

A gown, goggles and gloves should be worn when handling animals or changing cages.

Respiratory protection of various types, may be necessary to reduce exposure to airborne allergens. Advice on suitable and effective respiratory protection should be sought from Occupational Health and Safety.

Risk LevelsTaskControls
LowWorking with post mortem or with tissuesWear appropriate personal protective equipment (lab coat, gloves, respiratory protection)1
Work on unconscious animalsAdhere to safe work instructions
Procedures involving few animalsAssessment by Occupational Physician (case by case)
Automated cage cleaning 
MediumCleaning within animal unitWear appropriate personal protective equipment (lab coat, gloves, respiratory protection)1
Indirect contact in animal roomAssessment by Occupational Physician (case by case)
Feeding AnimalsParticipate in Health Surveillance program, e.g. lung function test
Adhere to safe work instructions
Reduce airborne allergens when cleaning cages, i.e. wet cleaning
Use low dust bedding materials
HighInjections and other invasive proceduresWear appropriate personal protective equipment (lab coat, gloves, respiratory protection)1
 Shaving FurAssessment by Occupational Physician (case by case)
 Handling animalsParticipate in Health Surveillance program, e.g. lung function test
 Box ChangingAdhere to safe work instructions
 Disposal of soiled litterReduce airborne allergens when cleaning cages, i.e. wet cleaning
 Changing filters of local exhaust ventilation or room ventilationUse low dust bedding materials
 Washing CagesEnsure adequate ventilation, e.g. local exhaust ventilation or work within a Class II Biosafety cabinet for specific procedures
 Reduce the frequency and time spent with animals in high density rooms

1Although engineering controls can be useful in reducing exposure to animal allergens, airborne levels generated on direct contact to animals and bedding materials can still be significant. Respiratory protection of various types may be necessary to reduce exposure and must be fitted correctly. Advice on suitable and effective respiratory protection should be sought from OH&S.

Further information

For additional information, contact the Occupational Health team: