Cincinnati, OH—Pharmacists are the most likely healthcare professionals to drag themselves to work, even if sick with influenza-like illness.

An article in the American Journal of Infection Control points out that about four in 10 healthcare practitioners (HCPs) work while experiencing influenza-like illness (ILI). Most likely to show up for duty were clinical professionals, led by pharmacists at 67.2% and physicians at 63.2%.

“The statistics are alarming. 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,” explained lead researcher Sophia Chiu, MD, MPH, of the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the CCD in Cincinnati. “We recommend all healthcare facilities take steps to support and encourage their staff to not work while they are sick.”

Study authors warn that contagious employees risk infecting others when they report to work sick, but that the situation is even more serious in healthcare facilities, which have higher concentrations of older patients and those with immunosuppression or severe chronic diseases.

A national online survey, conducted annually, collected data from nearly 2,000 HCPs during the 2014-2015 flu season. Respondents self-reported ILI, defined as the combination of a fever and cough or sore throat. They also listed factors that pushed them to report to work.

HCPs included in the survey were physicians; nurse practitioners and physician assistants; nurses; pharmacists; assistants/aides; other clinical HCPs; nonclinical HCPs; and students. Work settings assessed included hospitals; ambulatory care or physician offices; long-term care facilities; and other clinical settings.

Among the findings: 
• Of respondents reporting ILA, 41.4% reported working for a median duration of 3 days while experiencing influenza-like symptoms.
• The highest frequency of working with ILI, 49.3%, was among hospital-based HCPs, compared with 28.5% of long-term care facility employees.
• Others working while sick were assistants and aides, 40.8%; nonclinical HCPs, 40.4%; nurse practitioners/physician assistants, 37.9%; and other clinical HCPs, 32.15%.  

HCPs reported that they opted not to take sick leave because they felt they still could perform their duties; they didn’t feel “bad enough” to stay home; they didn’t feel as if they were contagious; they were motivated by a professional obligation; and they had difficulty finding coworkers to cover for them.

Yet, among the HCPs who felt they could still perform their job duties, 39% sought medical attention for their ILI symptoms, as did 54% of those who did not think they were contagious. 

The reasons for showing up for work sick were a bit different for HCPs in long-term care settings: 49.8% said they couldn’t afford to lose the pay.

The survey notes that HCPs with self-reported ILI missed a median number of 2 workdays and, of that group, 57.3% visited a medical provider for symptom relief and 25.2% percent were told they had influenza. 

CDC recommendations call for those with ILI to wait 24 hours after a fever breaks before returning to work.