Reindeer epithelium

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Code: e202
Latin name: Rangifer tarandus
Family: Cervidae
Common names: Reindeer, Eurasian Reindeer, Caribou
Direct or indirect contact with animal allergens frequently causes sensitisation.
Animal allergens are major components of the dust of Reindeer leather workshops.

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
Historically, Reindeer were found in all northern latitudes, but due to extensive hunting by humans are now extinct in many parts of their former range. The largest herds now occur in Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. This is the only Deer in which both sexes have antlers. Reindeer have long fur, light brown in summer and whitish in winter, with dense woolly undercoats. Reindeer are gregarious and migratory; they travel up to 1000 km between their summer and winter grounds in herds of up to 200,000 animals. They are small but extremely strong and have great powers of endurance. A Reindeer can travel 64 km a day, pulling twice its own weight on a sled. They have been domesticated for many centuries in Lapland and Siberia, where they provide meat, milk, clothing, and transportation. The Laplanders until recently were completely dependent upon the Reindeer for their livelihood and followed the herds on their annual migrations. The wild Reindeer of North America, called Caribou, are larger than but otherwise quite similar to the Eurasian type. They have never been domesticated. Domesticated Reindeer were introduced into Alaska from Siberia in the 1890s and became essential to the economy of the Alaskan Eskimo. Herds were established in Canada in the 1930s.
Reindeer inhabit tundra, taiga, and temperate forests, although they are now rare in temperate climates.
No allergens from this animal have yet been characterised.

Potential Cross-Reactivity

Reindeer and Deer are members of the same family. Deer dander allergens have been shown to be cross-reactive with the corresponding Cow allergens (1).  RAST inhibition studies have also demonstrated antigenic cross-reactivity among Deer, Elk, Cat, Cattle and Horse (2). A certain degree of cross-reactivity may be expected for reindeer as well.

Clinical Experience

IgE mediated reactions
Asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis following exposure to Reindeer epithelial allergens may occur among Reindeer herders and in workshops where Reindeer leather is processed (3-4).
Reindeer herding is a major source of livelihood for more than 4200 inhabitants of northern Finland. The prevalence of allergic symptoms among Reindeer herders was investigated. Specific IgE antibodies to Reindeer epithelium and total serum IgE were evaluated in 99 herders, 5 persons who handled Reindeer leather indoors, 21 atopic patients with Cow allergy and another 20 subjects with specific IgE to other inhalant allergens. Positive SPT to Reindeer epithelium was detected in 1, and specific IgE (by using enzyme allergosorbent test (EAST); a positive result being greater than or equal to 0.8 PRU/ml) in 7 herders (4). In a second report, these authors claim that positive skin-specific IgE to common allergens in Reindeer herders was to some extent lower than expected and that only 1 of 211 subjects had positive SPT to Reindeer epithelium (5).
Workers exposed by inhalation to dry epithelial Reindeer dust during their working shifts were examined for serum-specific IgE to Reindeer epithelial allergen. One of 5 workers was positive. Reindeer epithelial antigen concentrations varied from 0.01 microgram to 3.9 micrograms/m3 in the air of the workshop. With the exception of 1 worker, all claimed work-associated respiratory symptoms (3).
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman,


  1. Spitzauer S, Valenta R, Muhl S, Rumpold H, Ebner H, Ebner C. Characterization of allergens from deer: cross-reactivity with allergens from cow dander. Clin Exp Allergy 1997;27(2):196-200
  2. Amrol DJ, Georgitis JW, Dunagan DP. Anaphylaxis to deer dander in a child: a case report. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2000;85(5):372-3
  3. Reijula K, Virtanen T, Halmepuro L, Anttonen H, Mantyjarvi R, Hassi J. Detection of airborne reindeer epithelial antigen by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay inhibition. Allergy 1992;47(3):203-6
  4. Reijula K, Halmepuro L, Hannuksela M, Larmi E, Hassi J. Specific IgE to reindeer epithelium in Finnish reindeer herders. Allergy 1991;46(8):577-81
  5. Reijula K, Larmi E, Hassi J, Hannuksela M. Respiratory symptoms and ventilatory function among Finnish reindeer herders. Arctic Med Res 1990;49(2):74-80

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