Objective: To estimate the expected staff absentee rates and work attitudes in an Australian tertiary hospital workforce in two hypothetical scenarios: (i) a single admission of avian influenza; and (ii) multiple admissions of human pandemic influenza.
Methods: A survey conducted at hospital staff meetings between May and August 2006.
Results: Out of 570 questionnaires distributed, 560 were completed. For scenario one, 72 (13%) indicated that they would not attend work, and an additional 136 (25%) would only work provided that immunizations and/or antiviral medications were immediately available, so that up to 208 (38%) would not attend work. For scenario two, 196 (36%) would not attend work, and an additional 95 (17%) would work only if immunizations and/or antiviral medications were immediately available, so that up to 291 (53%) staff would not attend work. Staff whose work required them to be in the ED (odds ratios 2.2 and 1.6 for each scenario respectively) or on acute medical wards (odds ratios 2.2 and 2.0 respectively) were more likely to work.
Conclusion: High absenteeism among hospital staff should be anticipated if patients are admitted with either avian or pandemic influenza, particularly if specific antiviral preventative measures are not immediately available. Measures to maximize the safety of staff and their families would be important incentives to attend work. Education on realistic level of risk from avian and pandemic influenza, as well as the effectiveness of basic infection control procedures and personal protective equipment, would be useful in improving willingness to work.