Wednesday, April 7, 2010

LATEX Allergy Awareness

Snowball commented on my not posting in a while. To be truthful, I've been a little irate. I received a comment to my last posting, "STOP! Don't EAT that LATEX!" and it upset me for a while. Dr. E. Yip wrote to criticize my stand on latex use in the food service industry. I pondered Dr. Yip's criticisms quite seriously (as I always do). Then, I googled Dr. E. Yip and found that I needn't have bothered. Here is a general idea of the criticisms and my responses:

1. Dr. Yip stated: "[latex allergy] Prevalence in the general population is only about 1% and less, although it is somewhat higher among the healthcare workers . . . "

Miller's response: As of April 7, 2010, the US population is estimated at over 309 million people. According to Dr. Yip's statement, over 3 million people in the USA have latex allergy. I don't call this a small percentage, even at "only about 1%." In the healthcare profession, the percentage is much higher (more than double that amount would be much higher). Washington State gives the prevalence of latex allergy in the health care profession as high as 8%. The states that make up our country give varying ranges of prevalence, from 3% to 10% among healthcare workers. I do not know if there has ever been a study showing how many food service workers have developed latex allergy due to latex glove exposure, but I am reasonably certain it would be nearly equivalent to that of healthcare workers. At any rate, three million people in the USA with latex allergy is three million too many.

2. Dr. Yip stated: "Latex allergy is due to repeated exposure to an older generation of latex gloves with high levels of residual proteins, particularly in the late 1980s and 1990s in particular the healthcare setting. Today's low-protein gloves have drastically reduced the glove's protein content, and many hospital studies have in fact shown the use of such improved gloves has markedly reduced the incidences of allergy in work places . . . "

Miller's response: Latex allergy is due to repeated exposure to latex, regardless of whether the latex is found in gloves, or on food or in the air. As stated in my earlier blog, I did not get latex allergy from my work in the health care industry, nor from wearing latex gloves with high levels of residual proteins. I was never a doctor nor a registered nurse. My exposure is unexplained by Dr. Yip's statement. To markedly reduce the incidence of latex allergy in the work place would be to slash it in half . . . great job, now only half as many are developing latex allergy. The point is, latex allergy is STILL developing in people who are exposed to latex on a daily basis. But, look at this from another point of view: If you were allergic to peanuts and Dr. Yip stated that "today's low-protein peanut butter has drastically reduced the peanut butter's protein content," would you would go ahead and eat peanut butter . . . or let your child eat peanut butter, if your child were allergic to peanuts? Of course not.

Oh, yes! I forgot to mention that Dr. Yip is associated with MREPC, which stands for the Malaysian Rubber Export Promotion Council. Dr. Yip has a vested interest in promoting that everyone is safe eating food prepared with low-protein latex gloves.

3. Dr. Yip stated: "As for food service gloves, there is insufficient scientific and clinical evidence to show that handling food with latex gloves could elicit allergy reactions in consumers through food ingestion -- a conclusion of the public meeting held to examine this issue by a panel of experts of the U.S. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition of the FDA in August 2003. It was also commented that the ban of latex gloves in food handling in the three states, Rhode Island, Arizona and Oregon, was not science-based.
According to the FDA, although self-reported cases of food-mediated latex allergies received earlier from consumers, they were not clinically verified through medical records and it is possible that some of the reactions described could havebeen due to consumption of foods that cross react to latex protein (e.g., kiwi, bananas, buckwheat, stone fruits, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet pepper, chestnuts, spinach, etc.)."

Miller's response: I don't need sufficient "scientific or clinical evidence to show that handling food with latex gloves could elicit allergy reactions in consumers through food ingestion." Fifteen trips to the ER for anaphylaxis told me that fact all on its own. Whether or not the ban of latex gloves in food handling in the three states was not science based is of no importance to someone with latex allergy. Just knowing I could dine in any restaurant in those states and be safe from latex exposure is of great comfort to someone like me.

But it was kind of Dr. Yip to point out some of the many foods that cross react to latex protein. Latex allergy does make your diet selection quite slim . . . and stone fruits can include apples, oranges, pears, limes, lemons, grapefruit, papaya, mango, cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, prunes, dates, etc. Other foods she neglected to mention that are cross reactive to latex include lettuce, kale, strawberries, nuts and grapes. Dr. Yip might want to try eliminating all those foods from her diet in an effort to avoid anaphylaxis before she starts citing "food-mediated latex allergies." If a person is not allergic to latex, the question of "food-mediated latex allergies" no longer becomes an issue.

4. Dr. Yip states: "The main purpose of wearing gloves in food handling is to protect consumers from infectious organisms or other contaminants on wounded or inadequately washed hands of food handlers. Latex gloves have been consistently demonstrated by many studies to provide the best barrier protection against transmission of bacteria and viruses. On the other hand, the commonly used alternative food service gloves such as the plastic polyethylene (plastic) and vinyl (PVC) gloves have markedly less barrier capability than latex gloves . . . "

Miller's response: While I agree that "wearing gloves in food handling is to protect consumers from infectious organisms or other contaminants," I do not agree that latex is the best solution. There are a wide variety of choices for glove use besides plastic, vinyl or latex. Nitrile seems to be the glove of choice in the healthcare industry and would work equally well with food. NIOSH does not recommend food service workers wear latex at all.

My responses given, I need to remind my readers that Miller's Musings was not designed to debate with the MREPC. It was designed to express my own opinions and musings, and to write a few noteworthy book reviews. I am not a scientist and I have NO interest in the MREPC, nor in its attempts, through Dr. E. Yip, to sway me from my point of view. I would be happy if the MREPC would concentrate its efforts on promoting rubber tires.

I simply state that I believe latex proteins can transfer to foods we eat when latex is worn in food preparation. I would not want anyone else to EVER develop latex allergy because it is a very difficult allergy to live with. It is my hope that people will stop eating latex-laden foods so that they will not have to suffer with latex allergy as I have. Therefore, I voice my own opinion, and pray that someone out there will read this and take the proper precautions to prevent their own development of latex allergy.

Sherry Ann Miller