Dental Tribune America

Stay at home when feeling ill, researchers of a new study suggest

ARLINGTON, Va., U.S.: The primary role of health care workers concerns the health of their patients; however, the health of those performing this duty is often overlooked. The stresses of daily life, financial pressure and work obligations contribute to the decisions health care workers make when feeling ill. New research has found that large numbers of them risk transmitting respiratory viruses to patients and coworkers by attending work even when they have symptoms of illness.

“We found that physicians and people working in areas that required the most intensive contact with patients were less likely than other workers to stay home or to leave work if symptoms progressed after the start of the day,” said Dr. Brenda Coleman, clinical scientist in the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research Unit at Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, and lead author of the study. “Managers and senior staff need to both model and insist on workers staying home when symptomatic as it protects both patients and coworkers from infection.”

The four-season prospective cohort study of influenza and other respiratory illnesses was conducted throughout nine hospitals in Toronto, Hamilton and Halifax, Canada. It included dentists and other health care professionals in acute care hospitals who worked more than 20 hours a week. Participants were asked to complete daily online illness diaries whenever they developed symptoms. The illness diaries collected information about possible exposure, attendance at work, reason for attendance when ill or absence, and medical consultations. In total, 10,156 illness diaries were completed by 2,728 participants. Diaries of participants who were not scheduled to work were excluded, leaving 5,281 remaining diaries for analysis.

According to the study’s results, 69% of the participants said that they worked during an illness because they had mild symptoms and felt well enough to work. A further 11% said they had things to do at work, 8% felt obligated to work and 3% stated that they could not afford to stay home. Additionally, half of the participants reported episodes of acute respiratory viral illness during each influenza season. Of those who reported an acute respiratory viral illness, 95% worked on one or more days of their illness.

Speaking to Dental Tribune International about the need for dentists working in practice settings to be aware of their own health and the health of their colleagues, Coleman said, “Although most dentists practice outside of the acute care hospital setting, their work puts them in close contact with patients, many of whom may be at higher risk of severe illness if they contract a respiratory illness. As such, dentists should reduce the risk of transmitting pathogens to their patients by not seeing patients while they themselves are symptomatic—and implementing policies requiring the same from their staff.”

The study, titled “Which healthcare workers work with acute respiratory illness? Evidence from Canadian acute-care hospitals during 4 influenza seasons: 2010–2011 to 2013–2014”, was published in the August 2019 issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

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