Animal allergens found in schools

If cats have nine lives, the allergens they produce are also a persistent presence in primary school classrooms, a new asthma study finds.

The study, led by Rob Siebers, of the University of Otago's Wellington campus, found cat, horse and cow allergens in the study of 136 classrooms in 12 primary schools, in Wellington and Whanganui.

"These levels of cat allergen are most likely due to passive transfer from children's clothing, as there are generally no cats on school premises,'' Associate Prof Siebers said.

A quarter of all classroom carpets had high enough levels of cat dander, produced in cat saliva and sebaceous glands, to potentially cause respiratory symptoms in cat-sensitised children.

Sebacious glands are small glands in the skin which secrete sebum, a lubricating oily matter, into the hair follicles to lubricate the skin and hair.

Given the high prevalence of asthma and allergy in New Zealand, schools should consider replacing carpets with smooth flooring to reduce children's exposure to cat allergens, Prof Siebers said.

Despite New Zealand having some of the highest levels of house dust mite allergens in the world, the researchers found the levels relatively low in the classrooms.

The cleaning practices adopted by the schools, mainly daily vacuum cleaning, were believed to have cut the levels.

Previous Otago studies had shown that daily vacuuming of carpets and mattresses in homes reduced house dust mite allergen levels by about 60%, he said.

Allergens from farm animals also made their presence felt by rubbing off children's clothes and on the classroom carpets.

As part of the He Kura Asthma Study, funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the researchers collected floor dust samples from the 136 classrooms and analysed it for allergens from cats, cockroaches, horses and cows, dust mites and peanuts.

Their study is published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.

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