Author(s): Jeebhay MF, Robins TG, Lehrer SB, Lopata AL
BACKGROUND: Recent years have seen increased levels of production and consumption of seafood, leading to more frequent reporting of allergic reactions in occupational and domestic settings. This review focuses on occupational allergy in the fishing and seafood processing industry.
REVIEW: Workers involved in either manual or automated processing of crabs, prawns, mussels, fish, and fishmeal production are commonly exposed to various constituents of seafood. Aerosolisation of seafood and cooking fluid during processing are potential occupational situations that could result in sensitisation through inhalation. There is great variability of aerosol exposure within and among various jobs with reported allergen concentrations ranging from 0.001 to 5.061(microg/m(3)). Occupational dermal exposure occurs as a result of unprotected handling of seafood and its byproducts. Occupational allergies have been reported in workers exposed to arthropods (crustaceans), molluscs, pisces (bony fish) and other agents derived from seafood. The prevalence of occupational asthma ranges from 7% to 36%, and for occupational protein contact dermatitis, from 3% to 11%. These health outcomes are mainly due to high molecular weight proteins in seafood causing an IgE mediated response. Cross reactivity between various species within a major seafood grouping also occurs. Limited evidence from dose-response relations indicate that development of symptoms is related to duration or intensity of exposure. The evidence for atopy as a risk factor for occupational sensitisation and asthma is supportive, whereas evidence for cigarette smoking is limited. Disruption of the intact skin barrier seems to be an important added risk factor for occupational protein contact dermatitis.
CONCLUSION: The range of allergic disease associated with occupational exposure to crab is well characterised, whereas for other seafood agents the evidence is somewhat limited. There is a need for further epidemiological studies to better characterise this risk. More detailed characterisation of specific protein antigens in aerosols and associated establishment of dose-response relations for acute and chronic exposure to seafood; the respective roles of skin contact and inhalational exposure in allergic sensitisation and cross reactivity; and the contribution of host associated factors in the development of occupational seafood allergies are important areas for future research.