Female veterinarians exposed to certain on-the-job chemicals and radiation may have a higher-than-average risk of miscarriage, a new study suggests.
In a survey of 442 Australian veterinarians who had ever been pregnant, researchers found that 16 percent had suffered a miscarriage - a rate comparable to that of Australian women in general.
However, women with certain on-the-job exposures showed an elevated risk of miscarriage. This included those who had used anesthesia without a “scavenging” system for clearing excess gas from the operating room, as well as vets who were exposed to radiation or pesticides at work.
“We found that not all practices complied with the safety guidelines,” lead researcher Dr. Adeleh Shirangi, of the Imperial College London, told Reuters Health. “We found that many of the vets surveyed either didn’t have the safety equipment in their practices or they had it but were not using it correctly.”
For example, she noted, while two thirds of the vets in the survey spent at least 5 hours per week in an operating suite or recovery room, about one quarter of them did not use a scavenging system to vent anesthesia gas.
And women regularly exposed to “unscavenged” anesthesia gases were more than twice as likely to have a miscarriage as vets who did not perform surgery, Shirangi’s team reports in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
Similarly elevated risks were seem among vets who used pesticides on the job at least once per week and among those who performed more than five X-ray exams each week.
According to Shirangi, about 80 percent of vets used lead aprons to protect themselves while taking X-rays, but “a great deal of them” did not use other safety equipment, such as lead gloves, lead screens and protective gear for the thyroid, a hormone-producing gland in the neck.
Shirangi said that all veterinary centers should have a proper ventilation system to deal with anesthesia gas, and all staff should use protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, to lower their health risks from pesticides and radiation.
Institutions also need to make sure that all personnel working in these areas, particularly women of childbearing age, are educated about the potential risks, according to Shirangi and her colleagues.
SOURCE: Occupational & Environmental Medicine, online April 3, 2008.