We’ve all heard the famous line from healthcare professionals at least once or twice in our lives: Stay home when you’re sick. But as it turns out, these individuals should start to heed their own advice, especially following a recently released survey that found that 4 in 10 healthcare professionals work while feeling under the weather.
According to findings that were published in the November issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, 40 percent of healthcare professionals (HCPs) go to work even when experiencing influenza-like symptoms. Obviously, the reason this is such a significant finding is because healthcare professionals who go to work while sick can easily transfer those symptoms and illnesses onto their patients, which in turn opens the door for a whole host of additional problems. Even though contagious employees are always discouraged from showing up to work, the threat of healthcare professionals showing up to work is perhaps an even greater one considering the workplace’s higher concentrations of older people and individuals who have weak immune systems. (Related: Doctors are misdiagnosing bowel cancer as gynecological and pushing chemo for severe skin conditions.)
“The statistics are alarming,” said lead researcher Sophia Chiu, MD, MPH, CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. She continued, “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. We recommend all healthcare facilities take steps to support and encourage their staff not to work while they are sick.” (Related: Here are the eight worst pieces of advice that medical doctors give to their patients.)
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The annual study was conducted by way of a national online survey, which collected data from a total of 1,914 healthcare professionals throughout the 2014-2015 influenza season. The survey was distributed to individuals across a wide range of institutions, including physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, assistants and aides, clinical and nonclinical healthcare professionals, as well students entering the medical field. In addition, the study examined HCP’s at four different work settings, including hospitals, ambulatory care or physician offices, long-term care facilities and other clinical institutions.
Other notable findings of the study included the fact that hospitals had the highest number of HCPs who work while sick, the fact that most HCPs who decline to stay home while sick do so because they feel as though they either “aren’t sick enough” or that they can still perform their job efficiently, and the fact that just 77.3 percent of HCPs admitted to getting a flu shot.
“Patients’ health and wellbeing are at stake when contagious HCPs opt not to stay home,” explained Linda Greene, RN, MPS, CIC, FAPIC, 2017 APIC president. “Tailored strategies per occupation and health institution, including updating paid sick leave policies, can empower HCPs to make healthy choices not only for themselves, but for their coworkers and patients.”
It is also worth noting that between the years 1976 and 2007, fatalities related to influenza accounted for as many as 16.7 deaths per 100,000 people in the United States. Furthermore, influenza has the most significant impact on individuals who are over the age of 65, and can be transmissible between one day before symptoms start to emerge and seven days after.
The findings of this study are significant in that they shed light on what may very well become a very serious problem if we don’t take action to stop it in its tracks. As lead researcher Sophia Chiu mentioned, it is imperative that hospitals and other medical institutions urge healthcare professionals to stay home when they are sick, not just for their own wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of the patients.