NIOSH to help improve drug safety in veterinary clinics

Published on January 30, 2019

Saline dripVeterinary clinic employees have higher exposure to chemotherapy drugs than counterparts in human medicine because of not taking proper precautions.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are studying the risks and developing training and guidance for veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and veterinary students. Deborah V.L. Hirst, PhD, acting deputy chief of the Engineering and Physical Hazards Branch of the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said she hopes her project will help bridge a gap between veterinary and human medicine in use of technologies and practices that protect workers against hazardous drug exposure.

"The two are very similar in some respects," she said. "They're also very different in how they handle the drugs."

Exposure to oncology drugs can have serious side effects, Dr. Hirst said. Veterinary clinic staff need to know the risks to themselves and how to protect themselves through proper controls—personal protective equipment and ventilated equipment, for example.

The project, "Bridging the gap between human and veterinary medicine: Different patients—same hazardous drugs," has involved field studies at seven veterinary hospitals throughout the U.S. in 2018. NIOSH researchers documented the practices and equipment used to prevent exposures as well as used surface wipes to sample for drug contamination.

"Our chemical branch also is developing analytical methods for some of these drugs," Dr. Hirst said. She is also a research environmental engineer.

Dr. Hirst said her team already is developing a training prototype for testing with small groups of veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and veterinary students.

Trudi McCleery, a health communication specialist for NIOSH, said the research is funded through September 2020, and the products of that research likely will become available after the research ends. That will include a free curriculum through which veterinarians can earn continuing education credit and view updated public resources and manuscripts.

"I think we have a lot of good recommendations that are out there now, but they're not packaged in a way that's easily transferable or viewed—or accessible to the audience," she said.

Dr. Hirst also described the project in December during a CDC Zoonoses and One Health Updates call, during which she said more than 500,000 people work in veterinary medicine and animal care, most of them women of reproductive age.

"Of these workers who are handling—meaning manipulating or administrating—chemotherapeutics, they're exposed to hazardous drug concentrations 15 times higher than a human health care worker," she said.

Cost, time, convenience, and discomfort are some of the barriers workers described to using safe practices and other exposure controls.

NIOSH has guidance for veterinary safety and health.