Cow dander

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Code: e4
Latin name: Bos taurus
Source material: Dander
Family: Bovidae
Common names: Cow, Cattle, Steer, Ox, Bull
Direct or indirect contact with animal allergens frequently causes sensitisation.

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
Cattle were among the first domesticated animals (descended from large wild Oxen), and one of the earliest measures of wealth. Domestic Cattle were first brought to the Western Hemisphere by Columbus on his second voyage, and are now known almost throughout the world. Important breeds include Angus, Hereford, Brahman, Jersey, Guernsey and Ayrshire. Cows have traditionally been kept for a greater variety of purposes than any other domestic animal, but with industrialisation and specialisation in agriculture, multiple-purpose breeds are now more rare.
Cattle are usually born and raised on rangelands. Rangelands are unfertilized and uncultured, and must contain adequate areas for grazing otherwise irreversible damage to natural ecosystems can occur. Cows are used primarily for dairy products (milk, cheese, etc.) and meat. They are also the sources of goods such as medicines, glue, soap, and leather. Males are used for pulling large loads or for plowing the soil because of their large size and their strength. The dung is a good source of fertilizer and fuel.
Early studies of Cow hair and dander determined 17 antigens, of which 5 were serum proteins (1-6). The allergens are proteins 11, 15, 20, 22, 36, 50, 62.3 and > 200 kDa in size (7, 8) . Four major allergens were initially shown to be predominantly associated with hair and dander, but they were also demonstrated in Cow saliva, urine, whey, amniotic fluid and beef, as well as in Cow-hide products (4, 9).
Of these allergens, a number have been characterised:
  • Bos d 1, a major allergen
  • Bos d 2, Mw 20 kD, a major allergen, a lipocalin (10)
  • Bos d 3, Mw 11 kD,  a major allergen, Ca-binding S100 homologue
  • Bos d 4, Mw 14 kD, alpha-lactalbumin
  • Bos d 5, Mw 18 kD, beta-lactoglobulin
  • Bos d 6, Mw 67 kD, serum albumin
  • Bos d 7, Mw 160 kD, immunoglobulin
  • Bos d 8, Mw 20-30 kD, caseins
The lipocalin Bos d 2 is the most allergenic and is found in Cow dander and urine (11). Research suggests that Bos d 2 is produced in sweat glands and transported to the skin surface as a carrier of the pheromone ligand. Because dander allergens of a number of mammalian species are lipocalins, the common biologic function of being pheromone carriers seems to be a common feature of an important group of aeroallergens (12).
Three Bos d 2 variants have been identified and named Bos d 2.0101 (previously sequenced Bos d 2), Bos d 2.0102 and Bos d 2.0103 (13).
Cow dander extract was shown to contain more allergenic activity than skin scrapings or whole skin extracts, which were needed in about 3-fold higher amounts than Cow dander extract to induce the same degree of inhibition in ELISA. Skin scrapings and whole skin extracts contained more high-molecular-weight components than dander extract. Using the sera of 49 Cow-asthmatic farmers, 2 major allergens were detected at 20 and 22 kDa in all 3 extracts. These results show that the highest amount of allergenic material and all the essential allergens are present in Cow dander extract. The study also reported that the normally non-allergenic high-molecular-weight components are detected in low concentrations in dander extract (14).
Although Cow dander contains a number of allergens, in asthmatic farmers IgE reactivity appeared to be directed to only a few components. Two main allergens were found in Cow dander, a 20 and 22 kDa protein; and a 20 kDa protein in Cow urine. The 20 kDa component was shown to be the most important allergen in Cow antigen extracts (15) later identified as a lipocalin.

Potential Cross-Reactivity

A study reported that approximately 20% of Cow dander-allergic sera displayed IgE reactivity with Cow milk proteins and that inhibition studies revealed the cross-reactive nature of the IgE antibodies. Allergens with molecular weights of 69, 92 and > 200 kDa were thought to be responsible (7). Earlier studies suggested that half of asthmatic children allergic to milk will react with bronchospasm if they are exposed to inhalation of Cow's hair (16).
Major Deer allergens with molecular weights of 22 and 25 kDa have been shown to be cross-reactive with the corresponding Cow allergens (17). Cross-reactivity between Fallow Deer and Horse allergen extracts has been shown, but whether some cross-reactivity may exist between Cow dander and Horse dander has not been determined as yet (18).

Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions
Cow dander is a frequent cause of asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis in farmers (7, 19). Atopic dermatitis due to Cow hair and dander has also been reported (20, 21). Atopic dermatitis has been described in a child due to Cow dander allergy (22). Cow dander may also result in protein contact dermatitis (23). Hand eczema due to Cow allergens has been reported to be common in Finnish farmers (24). Occupational allergy to Cows has also been described in veterinary surgeons (25).
Bovine allergens have been reported to be the most prevalent causes of animal-induced allergic rhinitis in Finland, where about 1 in every 4 cases of occupational rhinitis is animal-induced. The largest patient group affected are dairy farmers. In a study of 106 farmers with allergic rhinitis, positive allergen challenges with Cow dander occurred in 20% (26). Similar results have been reported from similar studies of individuals allergic rhinitis, among whom the incidence of allergy to Cow was reported to be 15%. Of 32 patient sera, 23 were positive to Cow dander but only 2 were positive to Cow serum; patients who had IgE antibodies to Cow dander also had antibodies to Cow serum, but not the reverse (27).
Cow dander has also been reported to be the most common cause of occupational contact urticaria in Finland. In a case report, a patient was described with a combined type I and type IV allergy to Cow dander. She had complained of intense pruritus, whealing, and severe dermatitis, but no respiratory symptoms (28-30).
Cow dander has been recognised as an important aeroallergen in the etiology of bronchial asthma in subjects from India (31) and Turkey (32). In Eastern Poland, sensitisation without the manifestation of symptoms has been reported. In 68 farmers from 17 randomly selected family farms, no farmer complained of symptoms when working with Cows or Pigs. Yet in 13 farmers (19.1%) either positive skin-specific IgE and/or the presence of serum-specific IgE to Cow dander and/or pig epithelia were found. Seven farmers (10.3%) were positive to skin-specific IgE tests: 2 to Cow epithelium; 2 to Pig epithelium; and 3 to both allergens. Serum-specific IgE was also found in 7 farmers (10.3%): in 4 to Cow dander; in 1 to Cow epithelium; and in 2 to both allergens. Only one farmer showed a positive reaction to Cow allergens in both skin tests and IgE (33).
The same authors in another study concluded that detection of animal antigen-specific IgE may be a useful screening tool, although an exact assessment of sensitivity and specificity of the method in a larger population of exposed farmers will be required (20).
Veterinarians have developed contact urticaria (itching, swelling, and urticaria on hands and arms) after contact with amniotic fluid of Cows and/or Pigs. Skin- and serum-specific IgE tests done with self-prepared allergens were positive. The authors suggest that the allergen causing contact urticaria is a compound of amniotic fluid and serum but does not include the epithelia of these animals (34).
Among dairy farmers, Storage Mites are reported to be as common as Cow dander as the cause of allergic occupational rhinitis (26).
Other reactions
A negative aspect of Domestic Cattle husbandry is the disease Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, better known as Mad Cow Disease. Mad Cow Disease is a fatal degenerative brain disease, which is caused by a protein known as a prion. In humans, the equivalent disease is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which causes rapid dementia and neurological damage leading to death. The diseases are now believed to be linked to eating Beef from infected Cows.
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman,


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As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.