Female veterinarians have twice the risk of miscarrying as a result of increased exposure to anesthetic gases and pesticides, according to a study released on April 1, 2008 in the BMJ Specialty Journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. These results highlight a warning for all young female vets, who must be made more informed of the inherent risks should they want to become pregnant.

This work was done as part of a study known as the Health Risks of Australian Veterinarians Project (HRAV), surveying all graduates from Australian veterinary schools between 1960 and 2000. 5,700 graduates were contacted, of which 2,800 responded. Of these, 1,200 were women. Within these female respondents there were 1,355 pregnancies reported, 940 of which took place while the woman was working in clinical practice. This group of pregnancies was considered eligible for inclusion in the study.

Women who carried out surgeries and were exposed to unfiltered anesthetic gases for an hour or more a week had 2.5 times the chance of miscarriage. The same was true for vets who used pesticides in their work. Female veterinarians who performed x-rays more than five times a week had 1.8 times the chance of miscarrying. The trend appears to be consistent over time, as when the analysis was restricted to recent graduates (between 1980 and 2000) the results were similar.

This prompts the authors to sound a warning to female vets who are of childbearing age, that they “should be fully informed of the possible reproductive effects of ionizing radiation, unscavenged anaesthetic gases, and exposure to pesticides.” This could potentially apply to other staff members as well. Thus, they advise that these women should take protective measures when planning to conceive and during gestation.

Maternal occupational exposures and risk of spontaneous abortion in veterinary practice
A Shirangi, L Fritschi, CDJ Holman
Online First Occup Environ Med 2008
doi: 10.1136/OEM.2007.035246
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Written by Anna Sophia McKenney