If you have gone to the doctor recently with flu-like symptoms, your doctor may have advised you to stay home from work until you have recovered. But, do you know if your doctor and other health care workers also follow that advice? Unfortunately, many of them may not, according to a NIOSH study in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Each year in the United States, the flu causes mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death. One of the best ways to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you do develop symptoms of the flu, however, you can prevent it from spreading in the workplace by staying home. The CDC recommends staying home from work until you have had no fever for at least 24 hours.

In this study, investigators wanted to learn if health care workers follow that advice. They used a 2015 Internet survey of 1,914 health care workers to calculate how often they reported going to work with flu-like symptoms, including fever and cough or sore throat, during the 2014–2015 flu season. The results showed that many of the survey respondents did not follow the recommendation to stay home in order to prevent the spread of influenza in the workplace. Overall, 41% reported working with flu-like symptoms for an average of 3 days. By occupation, pharmacists were the most likely to work while sick, with 67% reporting that they did so, followed by 63% of physicians. In other findings that looked at work settings, health care workers employed by hospitals were the most likely to report working while sick at 49%.

So, why do health care workers go to work while sick? Most survey respondents who reported that they did so cited being able to perform their jobs despite being sick. They also said that they did not feel sick enough to stay home and miss work. Health care workers employed by long-term care facilities, however, most commonly cited lost pay as a reason for going to work while sick.

These findings underscore the importance of interventions to decrease transmission of the flu in health care settings, according to the investigators. One approach is through training that dispels misconceptions health care workers may have about working while sick. Another approach is to consider improvements to paid sick leave policies.

More information is available:

Working with Influenza-like Illness: Presenteeism among U.S. Health Care Personnel during the 2014–2015 Influenza Season