Nurses and Other Medical Professionals Exposed to Disinfectants May Find it Harder to Conceive

Contact With High-Level Disinfectants Leads to Longer Time to Pregnancy for the Nurses Exposed to Them on the Job

Young female medical professionals.October 22 , 2014
by: ASRM Office of Public Affairs
Published in ASRM Press Release

Honolulu, Hawaii – While healthcare providers come into contact with many risks to their own health, they probably don’t suspect that the chemicals they use to sterilize equipment and surfaces could be affecting their reproductive health.  Researchers presenting their work today at the 70th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have shown otherwise, identifying an occupational risk to female nurses’ fertility: exposure to high-level disinfectants.

The prospective cohort study included 2581 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study 3 (2010 to present) who were trying to become pregnant or who reported a recent planned pregnancy.  Nurses participating in the study report on their pregnancy attempts at three or six month intervals.  They are considered at risk of pregnancy as long as they are trying to become pregnant, until they do become pregnant or stop trying or are lost to follow-up.  The baseline questionnaire asked about occupational exposures to substances used to disinfect medical instruments, devices or supplies.

Nurses who reported current exposure to high level disinfectants containing glutaraldehyde had a 22% longer Time To Pregnancy (TTP) than nurses who had never been exposed to the chemical.   Other disinfectant exposures were not associated with a longer TTP.

Protective measures were found to be effective, but were used by a minority of women.  The researchers found that using more than three types of protective equipment significantly protected exposed women against longer TTP, but only 6.7% of women did so. The protective gear that was proven to be most effective consisted of a waterproof gown or respiratory protection.  Dedicated ventilation, eye protection, and gloves also appeared to confer some protection.

Kurt Barnhart, MD, President of the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility commented, “Nurses and others exposed to disinfectants, who plan to become pregnant, need to be aware that disinfectant exposure can affect their fertility.  With knowledge, they can take precautions to avoid contact with these chemicals and safeguard their reproductive health.”

O-310 AJ Gaskins et al, “Occupational Use of High Level Disinfectants and Time to Pregnancy Among Nurses”

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, founded in 1944, is an organization of more than 7,000 physicians, researchers, nurses, technicians and other professionals dedicated to advancing knowledge and expertise in reproductive biology.  Affiliated societies include the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, the Society of Reproductive Surgeons and the Society of Reproductive Biologists and Technologists.