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Stand back! The pharmacist has the flu! - (10/23/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Dan came into the pharmacy in the middle of the pharmacist’s sneezing fit. “Do you have a cold, doc?” Dan asked the pharmacist. “I think it’s the flu,” the pharmacist replied. “The symptoms came on suddenly. Fever, sneezing, chills, aches, sore throat. Even my hair hurts.” “Did you get a flu shot?” asked Dan. The pharmacist confessed that he did not get a flu shot, though even he has vaccinated half the town. “I never get the flu,” the pharmacist lamented. “Besides, who is going to run the store?” 

Pharmacists are the most likely healthcare professionals (HCPs) to drag themselves to work, even if sick with an influenza-like illness. A 2017 study in the American Journal of Infection Control revealed that about 4 in 10 healthcare practitioners (HCPs) work while experiencing influenza-like illness. Those HCPs most likely to show up for duty were pharmacists at 67% and physicians at 63%. The excuses why HCPs go to work when sick are aplenty. HCPs reported that they opted not to take sick time because they felt they still could perform their duties; they did not feel “bad enough” to stay home; they did not feel as if they were contagious; they were motivated by a professional obligation; and they had difficulty finding coworkers to cover for them. At least one earlier study showed that patients exposed to a coughing, fevered HCP are 5 times more likely to become infected by that HCP.

There is some good news. It is unusual for a health care worker not to be vaccinated for influenza. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, for the 2017-2018 flu season, 78% of HCPs reported receiving an influenza vaccination. Coverage was highest among personnel who were required by their employer to be vaccinated (95%) and lowest among those working in settings where vaccination was not required, promoted, or offered on-site (48%). Pharmacists led the pack with over 95% receiving the vaccine.

So, the pharmacist in our story is in the vast minority. Yet, his failure to get a flu shot could infect his patients and co-workers. The pharmacist touches pills and equipment, money and credit cards, anything and everything. For a pharmacist who has the flu to give out flu shots to the public is risking their safety as well. Especially since the vaccination takes about 2 weeks to activate the immune system. Also, because influenza is airborne, sneezing or coughing can propel germ-laden droplets as far as 5 feet away. Therefore, glove and masks should be worn if the HCP is going to continue to work. Frequent hand washing is essential. The CDC recommends that droplet precautions be implemented for people with suspected or confirmed influenza for 7 days after illness onset or until 24 hours after the resolution of fever and respiratory symptoms, whichever is longer. 

Let’s not forget what kind of people come into a pharmacy. Sick people with infectious diseases. They hand over damp prescriptions, wet money, and a gazillion germs. Because you cannot banish them from the store, the entire staff should be required to receive a flu shot. Business depends on it. 

Should the pharmacist get a flu shot after he gets better? Yes. Two types of influenza commonly make people sick: type A and type B. If he had type A, which is most prevalent in the early winter, he could acquire type B, which is more common in late winter. And – watch out! – type B could be worse than type A. Bottom line: everyone should get a flu shot to avoid all sorts of problems.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com


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