June 19, 2019
1 min read

95% of health care workers report working with respiratory symptoms

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During four recent influenza seasons, approximately 95% of health care workers reported working while experiencing symptoms of an acute respiratory illness, according to a recent study. Researchers said more data are needed to understand how to balance the costs and risks of absenteeism vs. working while ill.

“The study was prompted by the need to understand how many health care workers attend work while ill with a respiratory illness and why,” Brenda L. Coleman, PhD, a clinical scientist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, told Infectious Disease News.

“This information will help infection control and occupational health teams determine whether changes need to be made to policies to reduce the risk of spreading respiratory infections among staff and patients.”

To better understand the issue, Coleman and colleagues prospectively enrolled health care workers at nine Canadian hospitals in active surveillance for acute respiratory illnesses during the 2010-2011 through 2013-2014 influenza seasons.

Overall, they found that 94.6% of the health care workers who reported having a respiratory illness worked at least 1 day during that illness. According to the study, 67% of health care workers said they worked while symptomatic because they believed their symptoms were mild, and they felt well enough to work. Additionally, Coleman and colleagues found that younger participants and participants without paid sick leave were more likely to say they could not afford to stay home.

“We all need to reflect on whether our attendance at work is worth the risk of spreading our infection to others,” Coleman concluded. – by Caitlyn Stulpin

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.