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Research Finds That 4 in 10 Healthcare Professionals Work While Sick

A recent study suggests that healthcare professionals (HCPs) should heed their own advice: stay home when sick.

Studies show that four in 10 HCPs work while experiencing influenza-like illness (ILI), according to findings published in the November issue of the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC), the journal of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). As in all workplaces, contagious employees risk infecting others when they turn up for work but with higher concentrations of older patients and individuals with immunosuppression or severe chronic diseases in healthcare facilities, ILI transmission by HCPs presents a grave public health hazard.

“The statistics are distressing. 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.”

The annual study, conducted via a national online survey, collected data from 1,914 HCPs during the 2014-2015 influenza season. Respondents self-reported ILI, defined as the combination of a fever and cough or a sore throat, and listed factors that prompted them to turn up for work.

The survey assessed a variety of health professions across multiple institutions: physicians; nurse practitioners and physician assistants; nurses; pharmacists; assistants/aides; other clinical HCP; nonclinical HCPs; and students. Four types of work settings were assessed: hospitals; ambulatory care or physician offices; long-term care facilities; or other clinical settings.

The most common reasons for HCPs to opt from taking sick leave included: 

Feeling that one could still perform his/her job duties, not feeling “bad enough” to stay home; feeling as if s/he were not contagious.

Sensing a professional obligation to be present for coworkers, and difficulty finding a coworker to cover for him/her

49.8 percent of HCPs in long-term care settings who reported for work when sick reported doing so because they couldn’t afford to lose the pay. 

Click here to find out more about this study.