Four in 10 HCPs Work While Experiencing Flu-Like Illness, Says Survey

The most common reasons for HCPs to opt from taking sick leave included feeling that s/he could still preform his/her job duties; not feeling "bad enough" to stay home.

A survey of U.S. healthcare personnel (HCPs) found that over 40% of HCPs with influenza-like illness worked while ill. Findings from this study were published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

To get a better of understanding of which HCP occupations (physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, assistants/aides, other clinical HCP, students) and work settings (hospitals, ambulatory care or physician offices, long-term care facilities, other clinical settings) were more likely to contribute to influenza transmission, researchers conducted a national nonprobablility internet panel survey during the the 2014–2015 influenza season. Participants (n=1914) were asked to report on how frequently they worked with influenza-like illness (defined as the combination of fever and cough or sore throat), as well as the reasons for working while sick. 

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Four hundred and fourteen HCPs (21.6%) reported having influenza-like illness, and of those, 183 (41.4%) said they worked while being ill (median 3 days; range 0–30 days). The occupations associated with the highest frequency of working with influenza-like illness were pharmacists (67.2%) and physicians (63.2%). With regard to work setting, hospital-based HCPs reported the highest frequency of working with influenza-like illness (49.3%). 

Reasons for continuing to work while ill included “still being able to perform job duties” and “not feeling bad enough to miss work.” Other reasons included believing they were not contagious, sensing a professional obligation to be present, and difficulty in finding a coworker to cover for them. For long-term care HCPs, the inability to afford lost pay was the most common reason for working while sick.

“The statistics are alarming. At least one earlier study has shown that patients who are exposed to a healthcare worker who is sick are five times more likely to get a healthcare-associated infection,” said lead researcher Sophia Chiu, MD, MPH, CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “We recommend all healthcare facilities take steps to support and encourage their staff to not work while they are sick.” 

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