Over half of world’s healthcare workers attend work when sick

It is common for healthcare workers across the globe to attend work when they are sick with flu like symptoms, according to a new international study. 

Co-author Professor Peter Collignon, from The Australian National University (ANU), said the study provides important lessons for the global coronavirus pandemic. 

“It was bad enough before COVID-19 when it was just influenza and other respiratory viruses. But, now we have coronavirus it is more important than ever not go to work when you are unwell,” he said. 

“This study shows too many people go to work when they are sick, and this includes many people on the frontline of healthcare. More than half of the global population of physicians and nurses went to work when they had flu like symptoms.” 

The study, published today in PLOS ONE, analysed the phenomenon of “sickness presenteeism” – going to work while ill – in 49 countries across several sectors. It found the highest rates in care, welfare and education settings. 

More than 500 people participated from 49 countries - of these, 249 were healthcare workers.

Almost all workers – 96.5 per cent of non-healthcare workers and 99.2 per cent of healthcare workers – went to work with minor flu symptoms, including a cold, sore throat, fatigue, sneezing, runny nose, mild cough and reduced appetite.

More than half of healthcare workers, (58.5 per cent), admitted to going to work with an influenza-like illness. 

“Doctors and nurses might feel they need to go out of their way to help others, but it is best for everyone if they do not present to work if unwell,” said Professor Collignon. 

The report said healthcare workers were of particular concern because of the potentially serious public health impact and risk of infectious disease transmission. 

It also suggests healthcare settings should address sick-leave policy as a strategy for workers to prevent the transmission of the flu or other illnesses. 

“It was bad before COVID-19 and now we are in a pandemic, going to work sick is just unacceptable,” Professor Collignon said.

Press-only preview: https://plos.io/3be91hK

PLOS ONE link for publishing:  https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0232168

Professor Peter Collignon AM 
Infectious Diseases Physician and Microbiologist, Canberra Hospital 
Professor, ANU Medical School 
M:0410 669 711 

For media assistance, contact Rachel Curtis on 0459 879 726 or the ANU Media Team on +61 2 6125 7979 or at media@anu.edu.au    

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