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Nurses: Disinfectants Linked To Increased Asthma Risk

February 1, 2009

A new study from the University of North Carolina suggests that nurses with occupational exposure to hospital cleaning products and medical instrument disinfectants have a greater risk of developing asthma.

“I think it’s time that hospitals start exploring substituting products containing chemicals known to be respiratory irritants/sensitizers with products that may pose less health risk, just like what they did with substituting powdered latex gloves with powder free/vinyl gloves,” said Dr. Ahmed A. Arif of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte during an interview with Reuters.

“It is important to recognize that ours is not the only study, although it is one of the larger studies, that has shown association between exposure to cleaning-related chemicals and asthma in nurses,” he said.

Dr. Arif and his team questioned a representative sample of 3650 Texas health care professionals, 941 of which were nurses.

After accounting for factors that might influence the results, such as smoking status, age, weight and seniority, nurses who consistently cleaned medical instruments were 67 percent more likely to report an asthma diagnosis since beginning their job, the researchers found.

Furthermore, nurses who were routinely exposed to general cleaning chemicals and disinfectants were 72 percent more likely to report being newly-diagnosed with asthma and 57 percent more likely to report asthma-like symptoms.

Interestingly, nurses working with glues and solvents were 51 percent more likely to report asthma-like symptoms, the researchers found.  This particular finding was “less expected,” Arif acknowledged.

“We need more studies to further evaluate the significance of this finding,” he said.

The study was published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, February 2009.

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