The CSU Bakersfield Occupational, Health, and Safety Plan [OHSP]

HEALTH AND SAFETY OF PERSONNEL WORKING WITH ANIMALS: Overview

CSU Bakersfield protects the health and safety of personnel working with animals. This requires identifying plausible threats and then taking steps to minimize the risks involved. Common examples are scratches or bites from laboratory rodents, exposure to diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, and allergic reactions to the animals. Certain individuals may be at greater risk because of pre-existing health conditions.  These personal risk factors need to be identified and the persons warned.

HEALTH AND SAFETY OF PERSONNEL WORKING WITH ANIMALS: Persons Covered

All persons who will come into contact with animals repeatedly in the teaching or research setting are covered. This includes animal caretakers who work in the Animal Facility, faculty who use animals in their teaching, the students who are exposed to the animals in laboratory assignments, and faculty and students carrying out research which involves animals. Students whose exposure will be limited to classroom observations are excluded.

 

HEALTH AND SAFETY OF PERSONNEL WORKING WITH ANIMALS: Regulations and Guidelines

Not only is it common sense to take reasonable steps to protect persons exposed to plausible risks in the context of courses or research projects associated with the University, The Guide [2011] specifies that “Each institution must establish and maintain an occupational health and safety program [OHSP] as an essential part of the overall Program of animal care and use”, citing pertinent federal regulations.

 

HEALTH AND SAFETY OF PERSONNEL WORKING WITH ANIMALS:

Risks in Working with Animals

Zoonoses

A zoonosis is an infectious disease that can be transmitted between species. Here, our concern is with diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. There are many such diseases.

Rabies is a familiar example. Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system and is usually fatal to humans without early treatment. Transmission is usually from a bite by an infected animal such as a dog or bat. Laboratory mice and rats are bred to be free of zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to humans, which provides reasonable protection against zoonotic transmission.

Personnel in the field are exposed to different zoonotic risks. For example, Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne disease in the U.S., is caused by several types of bacteria that can be carried by ticks living on wild rodents which can also relocate on deer, and then move to a human host where the bacteria are transmitted by a bite. Other zoonoses that can be carried by wild rodents living in the Bakersfield area are hantavirus  and plague. Hantavirus can be contracted via contact with wild rodent urine, feces, and saliva and results in a potentially fatal pulmonary disease.  Plague is caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, which is spread by bites of fleas living on an infected wild rodent. Plague killed millions of persons in Europe in the Middle Ages, but is now treated effectively with modern antibiotics.

Concern about zoonoses is extremely high in settings in which persons work with non-human primates. Many zoonoses are readily transmitted between animal and worker because of their genetic similarity. Non-human primates are not used in teaching or research at the University.

 

HEALTH AND SAFETY OF PERSONNEL WORKING WITH ANIMALS:

Risks in Working with Animals

Tetanus

Tetanus infection is a very serious condition, beginning with rigid contraction of the jaws [“lockjaw”] followed by contraction of large muscle groups. There is significant mortality. Tetanus is not, strictly speaking, a zoonitic disease, since the tetanus bacterium does not occupy animal hosts. Tetanus is a concern in working with animals because the bacterium is typically transmitted via a deep puncture wound, such as a rat bite or a puncture with a scalpel. Therefore, persons who handle animals regularly need to have a current tetanus immunization, with a booster within the past 10 years. Persons who are not immunized and experience a serious bite are advised to seek immunization immediately.

 

HEALTH AND SAFETY OF PERSONNEL WORKING WITH ANIMALS:

Risks in Working with Animals

Laboratory Animal Allergies [LAA]

Allergic reaction to animal proteins is by far the most common health or safety problem working with laboratory rodents. “Laboratory animal allergy usually begins with nasal symptoms like sneezing and a runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, and/or rashes. A more serious condition that might affect about ten percent of workers is occupational asthma that can cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath and lead to chronic symptoms that continue even after exposure is removed.” [McLeod, 2010]. LAA is triggered by exposure to proteins found in animal urine, feces, dander, and fur. Contact can be direct or airborne. About one-third of animal workers eventually develop LAA and the figure is probably higher for those working with rats and mice. LAA symptoms can be immediate or emerge over a period of years. The incidence is particularly high for persons with pre-existing allergies. Also, such persons are at greater risk of LAA developing into occupational asthma [McLeod, 2010].


Protocol-Specific Health and Safety

As explained earlier, each use of animals at the University is covered by a specific IACUC protocol associated with a faculty principal investigator [PI]. A field study of lizards and a laboratory experiment with rats will involve different health and safety concerns. Each PI is responsible for identifying and managing the risks associated with their particular protocol. Each PI affirms on the IACUC protocol cover page:

“As PI, I affirm that I am responsible for the health and safety of personnel during activities covered by this protocol. I have practical knowledge of this field and/or laboratory situation. I will assess the experience of personnel, provide necessary information and training, and provide appropriate supervision to ensure that personnel follow procedures to minimize threats to their health and safety.”

Related, the IACUC protocol contains a section on health and safety in which the PI is asked to “Describe the health and safety risks to personnel associated with the activities covered by this protocol” and to “Describe the steps that will be taken to minimize the above possible health and safety risks to personnel”. Thus, the members of the IACUC are asked to make judgments about identification and management of health and safety concerns as part of the review and authorization process that takes place before the proposed activities take place.


 Pre-Existing Health Conditions

Pre-existing health conditions can increase risks in working with animals. Therefore these conditions should be identified and steps taken to manage them.

 

At this point, please take a few minutes to carefully consider whether you have any of the risk factors that can increase risks when working with animals.


HEALTH SCREENER

 

Have you EVER had an allergy such as:

 

  • Seasonal allergies or “hay fever” [sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes]?
  • Skin eczema/Hives [allergic skin rash]?
  • Asthma?
  • Anaphylaxis [severe shock-like allergic reaction]?
  • Are you allergic to any animal[s]?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you are at increased risk of having an allergic reaction to laboratory rats and mice and of having a more severe reaction.

Do you have any of the following medical conditions:

 

  • Diabetes?
  • Chronic kidney or liver disease?
  • Chronic infection or immune disorder?
  • Pregnancy or attempting pregnancy?
  • Sickle cell disease?
  • Valvular heart disease?
  • Problem with spleen or absence of spleen?
  • Other – Do you have any other concern not covered that you would like to explore before deciding to work with animals?

If you answered “yes” to any of the medical conditions, you are at increased risk of getting infectious diseases, experiencing more severe symptoms in certain situations, or being more difficult to treat.


 WHAT TO DO IF YOU ANSWERED “YES”

If you are faculty or staff, you should discuss this with your supervisor. If you are a student, you should report this to your professor or faculty research supervisor.

You should obtain enough information to make an informed decision about whether to be exposed to animals in the laboratory or field setting. Following are two reliable and current sources of health information that are searchable using keywords.

  • MedLine Plus – provided by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
  • CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. National Public Health Institute

You may choose to obtain the advice of a physician prior to making your decision.

If your decision is to go ahead and work with animals, you must first sign the Animal Exposure Liability Waiver and give a copy to the faculty person teaching your class or supervising your research.

General Education about Health and Safety in Working with Animals

The information here is intended to provide a general understanding of the risks in working with animals and management of these risks.

Even though transmission of a zoonotic disease is unlikely in the Animal Facility, bites from laboratory rodents, and any scratches and cuts can become the site of a secondary infection. Therefore, these should be treated immediately by washing the site with water and antiseptic followed by treatment to prevent infection. Students should notify their responsible faculty person in case of injuries, bites, other possible health or safety issues, and any unusual illnesses.

Appropriate personal hygiene is required in the Animal Facility to limit exposure to allergens and possible zoonotic diseases. There should be no eating or drinking. Persons handling animals should not touch their hands to their face before washing. Hands should always be washed after handling animals. Gloves and/or masks may reduce allergic reactions in persons with laboratory animal allergy.

Any person who will work with laboratory rodents must first take the required CITI (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative) Animal Care and Use (ACU) training.