Doctor warns on latex gloves

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 July, 1997, 12:00am

Latex allergy poses a serious risk to health professionals but goes unrecognised in Hong Kong, a medical expert has warned.

Dr Roland Leung Chung-chuen, an associate professor of medicine at Chinese University, said more health professionals were developing sensitivities and allergies to latex gloves and other items but might be unaware of it.

Allergic symptoms include rashes, nose inflammations and asthmatic attacks, which could be fatal in severe cases.

'The AIDS and Hepatitis B epidemics have forced all professionals to wear gloves, and that means more people are developing allergies,' he said.

A co-author of the first study, Clinical and Experimental Allergy published in February, on the latex allergy of Asians, Dr Leung found that 3.3 per cent of medical staff suffered from the allergy while 31 per cent experienced reactions such as itching, red skin and dryness.

There are 3,200 doctors and 18,000 nurses under the Hospital Authority and 700 health workers could be suffering from latex allergy.

The study polled 2,000 Prince of Wales Hospital staff and 73.6 per cent, or 1,472, responded.

About 10 per cent were allergic to other latex items such as rubber boots, condoms and diaphragms.

Western studies show about five to 10 per cent of health workers suffer from latex allergy.

Dr Leung, who is pushing for recognition of the condition as an occupational hazard for health professionals, said patients having frequent surgery could be at risk.

But unlike the United States where there had been documented cases of latex-allergy-induced deaths, there had been no such cases in Hong Kong.

A Hospital Authority spokesman said latex-free gloves were available for staff.

But she was unaware of any plan to list the allergy as an occupational hazard.