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Female vets face twice the fertility risk

West Australian researchers have voiced concern in light of findings which reveal female veterinarians who fail to safeguard themselves from x-rays and anaesthetic gases face double the risk of miscarriage.

The research, published in the most recent edition of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, was carried out by scientists at the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) and The University of Western Australia's School Of Population Health.

WAIMR Associate Professor Lin Fritschi said the study of more than 1,200 female graduates from Australian veterinary schools over a 40-year period showed that occupational dangers such as x-rays, anaesthetic gases and pesticides could have a devastating effect on pregnancy and fertility.

The worrying findings showed that female veterinarians exposed to an hour or more of anaesthetic gases or exposed to pesticides during the course of their duties were twice as likely to miscarry during pregnancy, she said.

"We also found that two out of three veterinarians surveyed spent five or more hours a week in an operating suite or recovery room area, and nearly a quarter of these vets did not take steps to reduce their exposure to anaesthetic gases.

"While eight in 10 vets were found to use lead aprons to protect themselves when taking x-rays, a great deal of them did not use other protective devices such as gloves, screens or film holders.

A/Prof Fritschi said the study proved that avoiding unnecessary exposure to occupational hazards needed to become a higher priority for veterinarians, particularly those who were pregnant.

"Existing precautions such as properly ventilating the workplace and minimising the amount of exposure through radiation protection measures such as masks, shoes and gloves are of vital importance," she said.

"It is also essential that the vets themselves take part in the planning of preventive measures, and in training and educating the profession about how and when to use protective devices at work.

Vets most at risk of dangerous exposures include graduates, vets under 30 years of age, those working in a mixed animal practice and vets working more than 45 hours a week.


Contact: Sarah Hayward
Research Australia

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