November 8, 2017

40% of health care workers with flu-like symptoms report to work. That's a problem, researchers say.

Daily Briefing

    More than 40% of health care professionals experiencing flu-like symptoms go to work, despite CDC recommendations not to, according to a new study in the American Journal of Infection Control.

    Q&A with Einstein Healthcare Network: How to achieve universal employee flu vaccination

    Study details

    For the study, researchers surveyed a nationwide sample of nearly 2,000 health care professionals during the 2014-15 flu season. The survey involved medical professionals across a variety of care settings and roles, including physicians, NPs, pharmacists, students, and others.

    Respondents were asked to disclose whether they experienced flu-like symptoms—which the study defined as a combination of "fever and a cough or sore throat"—and whether they went to work while experiencing such symptoms.

    Key findings

    Overall, the researchers found that 414 health care workers reported experiencing flu-like symptoms, and of those, 41.4% said they went to work despite their symptoms. Overall, those who went to work did so for a median of three days while experiencing symptoms.

    When the researchers broke down the findings by care setting, they found that 49.3% of health care professionals at hospitals who experienced flu-like symptoms worked while ill, making them the most likely to do so, followed by 28.5% of health care professionals at long-term facilities.

    When the researchers broke down the findings by role, they found that 44.3% of clinical workers who experienced flu-like symptoms said they worked while ill, making them the most likely to do so. For instance, clinical staff who reported working while sick included:

    • 67.2% of pharmacists;
    • 63.2% of physicians;
    • 40.8% of assistants and aides;
    • 37.9% of NPs and physician assistants; and
    • 32.1% of other clinical workers.

    In comparison, about 40.4% of nonclinical personnel reported working while ill with flu-like symptoms.

    The researchers also found that the most common reasons reported for coming into work while experiencing flu-like symptoms included workers:

    • Feeling as if they weren't sick enough to be unable to perform their jobs;
    • Not feeling "bad enough" to stay home from work;
    • Feeling as if they weren't contagious;
    • Feeling a sense of professional obligation to be at work; and
    • Having difficulty finding a coworker to cover for them.

    Sophia Chiu of CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, who lead the study, said the findings were "alarming." She explained, "At least one earlier study has shown that patients who are exposed to a health care worker who is sick are five times more likely to get a health care-associated infection. … We recommend all health care facilities take steps to support and encourage their staff to not work while they are sick" (Bean, Becker's Hospital Review, 11/2; Lagasse, Healthcare Finance News, 11/2).

    How to achieve universal employee flu vaccination

    In just a few years, Einstein Healthcare Network's employee flu vaccination rate skyrocketed from 30 percent to 98 percent. Learn how they did it.

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