Healthcare workers are at risk for exposure to serious, and sometimes deadly, diseases. They can also be a key cause of outbreaks in a variety of settings including hospitals, medical practice offices, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation offices, and home-care. The CDC estimates that in the United States, each year on average 5% to 20% of the population contracts the flu, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.
According to the CDC the overall healthcare worker influenza vaccination coverage estimate for the 2014-2015 season was 77.3%, an increase of 13.8 percentage points compared with the 2010-2011 season estimate, but similar to the 75.2% coverage estimate reported in 2013-2014. Coverage in 2014-2015 was higher among healthcare personnel whose employers required vaccination (96.0%), compared to those whose employer did not have a policy or recommendation regarding flu vaccination (44.0%).
Healthcare personnel have frequent contacts with high-risk patients, and they can serve as a vehicle to transmit influenza even when they do not have symptoms. Up to 25% of healthcare workers with the flu may have minimal or no symptoms, yet can still transmit infection. Those with influenza-like symptoms work an average of 2.5 days while ill, and those infected with influenza can transmit the virus to others even before their symptoms begin.
Additionally, their absenteeism can stress a healthcare facility or system. Research shows that influenza vaccination of healthcare personnel decreases patient mortality by 40% to 50%, risk of nosocomial infection by 43% and absenteeism by 20% to 30% while limiting the risk of bringing illness acquired at work home to family members.
All staff members working directly with patients or handling material that could spread infection should get appropriate vaccines to reduce the chance they will spread disease.