1589 Infections in the workplace: identifying problems and applying research to prevention

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Abstract

Introduction

Infections are the only occupational diseases that can be transmitted from one worker to another. Although workplace and community-acquired infections have a long history of affecting health and productivity, from miners’ ‘consumption’ and seafarers’ plague to influenza and Ebola, occupational infections have been under-recognised, under-reported and under-researched. In most workplace settings, infectious diseases have not received the same attention as physical, chemical and psychosocial challenges. Similarly, workplaces have generally been underutilised in the prevention and control of infections. However, epidemics in the 21 st century have evoked attention not only from the occupational health fraternity, but also from employers, workers and the media seeking policies and procedures to prevent and manage infection in the workplace.

Methods

Selected infections and their impact in various occupational settings are explored to illustrate the challenges of their identification and management, as is the interface between public health and occupational health surveillance, research and interventions. The unique nature of infectious agents as an occupational hazard is considered, while longstanding and new public health research and strategies for prevention are evaluated in an occupational context.

Discussion

A major challenge for research and prevention is measuring occurrence, morbidity or mortality from occupationally-acquired infections, especially when exposure in the workplace is not always recognised. Primary prevention interrupting the transmission cycle of micro- organisms comprises a variety of interventions that are implemented concurrently rather than in a hierarchy of control, while secondary prevention for affected individuals, becomes effective primary prevention for others. To date, even for health care workers, who dominate global research and interventions related to occupational infections, success has been somewhat limited to better resourced workplaces. It is vital for the focus to extend beyond the workplace in collaboration with public health care to promote research, recognition, prevention and management of infectious diseases for all workers.

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