Study Finds Female Vets Run Risk Of Miscarriage From Anesthetic Gases, Pesticides

Due to anesthetic gases and pesticides, female vets are risking miscarriage according to study.

Female veterinarians run twice the normal risk of miscarriage as a result of exposure to anesthetic gases and pesticides, according to a new study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a British medical journal.

The study is based on a survey of women taking part in the Health Risks of Australian Veterinarians Project, conducted by the School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia. The aim of the study was to determine whether veterinarians are at increased risk of cancer, injury, zoonoses or adverse reproductive outcomes and to identify risk factors for these conditions in veterinarians.

The project, funded by the Cancer Foundation of Australia and the National Health Medical Research Council, was conducted as a questionnaire-based survey of all graduates from Australian veterinary schools during 1960-2000. Of the 5,748 graduates contacted, 2,800 responded, including 1,197 women. In all, there were a total of 1,355 pregnancies, 940 of which occurred while working in clinical practice, making them eligible for the final analysis.

Female veterinarians performing surgery who were exposed to anesthetic gases, which were not filtered out of the atmosphere, for an hour or more a week, were almost 2.5 times more likely to miscarry.

Those who used pesticides during the course of their work were also twice as likely to miscarry.

Female veterinarians who performed more than five X-rays a week were around 80 percent more likely to miscarry than those performing fewer procedures. Even women graduating more recently—between 1980 and 2000—had similar results, the researchers found.

Female veterinarians of childbearing age “should be fully informed of the possible reproductive effects of ionizing radiation, unscavenged anesthetic gases and exposure to pesticides,” the authors wrote.

Adeleh Shirangi, Ph.D., one of the authors of the study and project coordinator, offers the following recommendations for all veterinarians and other personnel working in these areas:

  • Properly ventilate the workplace using gas scavenging system
  • All anesthesia machines and their scavenging systems should be checked with each use and maintained regularly by trained technicians
  • Minimize the amount of exposure through radiation protection devices, such as masks, shoes, lead apron, thyroid protector, lead gloves and lead screens or film holders
  • Use mask and gloves when using pesticides at work or at home
  • Each institution should provide a system whereby an employee can report a work-related health problem
  • Grant work leave, paid maternity leave and health benefits by law
  • Establish an education program for all personnel working in these areas

Veterinarians must take part in planning preventive measures and in training and educating the profession about how and when to use protective devices at work. Dr. Shirangi’s findings on birth defects, preterm delivery and stress, anxiety and depression in female veterinarians will be published later this year.

Shirangi is also a visiting researcher at Imperial College of London, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.

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