Study: Female Veterinarians at Risk of Miscarriage

Exposure to anaesthetic gases and pesticides could be the reason female veterinarians are suffering spontaneous abortion at twice the rate of other females in the same age group, according to a study appearing in an upcoming issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The findings prompt the authors to call for young female vets to be more clearly advised of the risks they run, should they want to become pregnant.

The study is based on a survey of women taking part in the Health Risks of Australian Veterinarians Project, which surveyed all graduates from Australian veterinary schools between 1960 and 2000. Of the 5,700 graduates contacted, some 2,800 responded--1,600 men and 1,200 women. The women reported a total of 1,355 pregnancies, 940 of which occurred while working in clinical practice, and so were eligible for inclusion in the study.

Women carrying out surgery and exposed to anaesthetic gases that were not filtered out of the atmosphere, for an hour or more a week, were almost 2.5 times more likely to miscarry. Female vets who used pesticides during the course of their work also were twice as likely to miscarry, according to the study, which also found that those who performed more than five x-rays a week were around 80 percent more likely to miscarry than those performing fewer procedures. When the researchers restricted their analyses to those women graduating more recently--between 1980 and 2000--the results were similar.

The authors warn that female vets of childbearing age "should be fully informed of the possible reproductive effects of ionising radiation, unscavenged anaesthetic gases, and exposure to pesticides." Women should take protective measures when they are planning to conceive and during pregnancy, they warn, adding that all staff working in these areas should be aware of the risks and protect themselves accordingly.

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