Those who are ill travel to the hospital or doctor’s office to obtain treatment. What they do not realize is that going to the hospital or doctor’s office may expose them to cold and flu viruses from those that work there. A recent study published in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) reported that four in ten healthcare workers surveyed reported that they went to work with flu-like symptoms and illnesses. Out of 1,194 healthcare workers surveyed, 414 people admitted to working with a fever, cough, sore throat, or a combination of factors.
Study participants included doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical professionals, assistants, pharmacists, and nurses from hospitals, long-term care facilities, and doctor’s offices. Nearly half of those surveyed admitted going to work even though they would advise their patients to stay at home with the same symptoms. While healthcare workers are exposed to the germs and viruses brought in by their patients, going to work with a cold or flu exposes those with already compromised immune systems to more viruses.
Why Healthcare Workers Treat Their Illnesses Differently
Researchers in the study reported the reasons why so many healthcare workers ignore the advice they give to their patients. The majority of those surveyed said they felt they could still perform their job duties despite their symptoms. Many believed they were not contagious, while others said they felt a moral and professional obligation to work, even though they did not feel well. A large majority of healthcare workers in the study admitted that they couldn’t financially afford to lose a day of work.
Surprisingly, only 77 percent of the healthcare workers surveyed reported that they had gotten a flu shot. Influenza is one of the most contracted illnesses for those working in the healthcare industry. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has initiated a campaign to encourage healthcare workers to obtain an annual flu vaccination. Their goal is to have 90 percent of U.S. healthcare workers receiving an annual flu shot by 2020.
The Dangers of Ill Healthcare Workers
Healthcare workers that report to work sick put everyone that they encounter at risk for illness and infection. A previous study showed that patients who encounter a healthcare worker that was ill were five times more likely to contract an infection or health complication. The elderly are particularly vulnerable when workers in nursing homes and assisted living facilities pass on germs and viruses. Younger, stronger patients are more likely to recover from a staff inflicted illness, but those who are older and have comorbid conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, are more likely to experience severe complications.
The flu virus is able to be passed on to an unsuspecting host even though symptoms have just started. The grace period for contamination of the flu is one day before or seven days after symptoms first appear. Thousands of people suffer fatal injuries each year from flu related complications, but those 65 years of age and older run the risk of serious complications if they contract the flu.
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