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Wednesday, May 12, 2021
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Time to rethink ‘sickness presenteeism’: study

Many people go to work sick, however it is time to rethink ‘sickness presenteeism’ in light of the global coronavirus pandemic, according to a new international study.

The study, published 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. 

Co-author of the study, Professor Peter Collignon, from the Australian National University (ANU), said it 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,” Professor Collignon 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.” 

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

Almost all workers – 96.5% of non-healthcare workers and 99.2% 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%) 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,” Professor Collignon said.

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.

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