A beastly mal­ady

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - HEALTH - By AL­FRED LUBRANO

Meet vets who are al­ler­gic to their pets. VE­TERI­NAR­IAN Do­minic Dal­lago pets his pa­tient, a do­mes­tic short- haired cat with di­ar­rhoea, as though she can’t harm him.

But lurk­ing in the dense black fur of the purring 10- year- old fe­line ( Dal­lago won’t name her for pri­vacy rea­sons) are al­ler­gens that don’t pussy­foot around – mi­cro­scopic pro­teins poised to at­tack like throat- chok­ing com­man­dos, to lay the al­ler­gic doc­tor low by trig­ger­ing his asthma.

“I usu­ally snif­fle, snort,” said Dal­lago, 37, who works at Philadel­phia’s World of An­i­mals Ve­teri­nary Hos­pi­tal. “Cats will do it to me. But an­i­mal al­ler­gies and asthma are the norm for me. And it’s pretty com­mon in the pro­fes­sion.”

Who doesn’t love their ve­teri­nar­ian? Vets know what we don’t about our ba­bies’ aches and mal­adies. They risk bites and beastly scorn. They care.

And now there’s an­other rea­son to crush on the corps of Doc­tors Dolit­tle through­out the land: Turns out many of them are sick­ened by the very pa­tients they are striv­ing to heal.

Yet, they go to work any­way. That’s ded­i­ca­tion.

“An al­ler­gist said I’d be in mis­ery all my life as a vet,” Dal­lago said. “But it’s in­grained in me to do this.”

Nearly 90% of vet­eri­nar­i­ans who were skin- tested for al­ler­gies were di­ag­nosed with one, Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis re­searchers re­ported.

They also quoted a study say­ing that vet­eri­nar­i­ans have a higher mor­tal­ity rate for asthma than the gen­eral US pop­u­la­tion.

A Cana­dian study found that 39% of vet­eri­nar­i­ans who did not have prior al­ler­gies de­vel­oped one dur­ing their ca­reers.

And the Amer­i­can Academy of Al­lergy, Asthma and Im­munol­ogy lists ve­teri­nar­ian among 15 pro­fes­sions con­sid­ered high- risk for de­vel­op­ing oc­cu­pa­tional asthma.

The academy is a pro­fes­sional mem­ber­ship or­gan­i­sa­tion based in Mil­wau­kee.

Anec­do­tally, vet­eri­nar­i­ans ref­er­ence a range of an­i­mal- borne dif­fi­cul­ties, from cough­ing and snif­fles to nearly dy­ing from asthma and al­ler­gies, as Cor­nell Univer­sity ve­teri­nar­ian Lila Miller re­ported.

Many vets had to give up their prac­tices be­cause of the end­less suf­fer­ing four- legged clients brought them, said Sharon Cur­tis Gran­skog, a spokes­woman for the Amer­i­can Ve­teri­nary Medicine As­so­ci­a­tion, a non- profit in Schaum­burg, Illinois.

Becky Ehrlich, 29, a ve­teri­nar­ian, has her own har­row­ing tale to tell.

Ehrlich once passed out when al­ler­gies spurred by a guinea pig swelled her eyes shut and closed her throat. To this day, she can’t en­ter a room at her hos­pi­tal that has been oc­cu­pied by a guinea pig un­til the space has been bleached.

“But I keep work­ing be­cause this job is what I need to do,” she said. “I couldn’t do any­thing else with my life.”

Ehrlich re­mem­bers scoff­ing as a young woman when doc­tors in­formed her that she was off- the- charts al­ler­gic to ev­ery an­i­mal species.

“I was told by doc­tors my ca­reer was not go­ing to hap­pen be­cause of my an­i­mal al­ler­gies,” said Ehrlich. “But it just pushed me harder.”

What may work in vet­eri­nar­i­ans’ favour is that self- same love of an­i­mals that keep Ehrlich and her nose- blow­ing col­leagues go­ing.

So many of them had pets as kids, and that early ex­po­sure to germs and mi­crobes may have strength­ened their im­mune sys­tems, said Corinna Bowser, an al­ler­gist.

“Ru­ral Ger­man stud­ies show grow­ing up with a cow is good,” she said, un­able to re­sist pre­scrib­ing a pos­si­ble al­lergy an­ti­dote: As a child, “have a cow in your bed­room”.

Ex­perts say many vet­eri­nar­i­ans re­port de­vel­op­ing al­ler­gies while work­ing in lab­o­ra­to­ries with mice and rats. There are more re­ports of such al­ler­gies be­cause those are the an­i­mals most used in re­search stud­ies, ac­cord­ing to the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia Oc­cu­pa­tional Health Pro­gram.

Ul­ti­mately, al­ler­gies will not chase away the vast ma­jor­ity of vet­eri­nar­i­ans, said Pamela Mueller, a col­league of Dal­lago’s at World of An­i­mals.

“I take Zyrtec and carry a lot of tis­sues,” said Mueller, 56. “It never crossed my mind to re­strict my work.”

Mueller said pet own­ers rarely em­pathise with her. “No one’s ever ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for me, or said, ‘ Oh, that must be hard,’” she said. “Maybe they’re in­volved [ in] talk­ing about their sick pets.”

For his part, Dal­lago said, own­ers laugh when he tells them he has al­ler­gies, as though it were some­thing that would never have oc­curred to them.

No big deal, he said. “Be­ing a vet is a very fun job,” he said. “Al­ler­gies are just a part of my life.” – The Philadel­phia In­quirer/ Tribune News Ser­vice

Ve­teri­nar­ian Dr Dal­lago cud­dles 13- month old Oliver, a Mal­tese Poo­dle. Dal­lago says he has suf­fered from pet al­ler­gies and asthma since child­hood. — TNS

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