• Vol. 34 No. 1, 105–110
  • 15 January 2005

Infectious Respiratory Illnesses and their Impact on Healthcare Workers: A Review



Respiratory illnesses are increasingly recognised as a growing concern for healthcare workers (HCWs) and patients. The recent hospital-based outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has once again highlighted the vulnerability of HCWs. The new epidemic of the 21st century resulted in tremendous economic and psychological impact with its high rates of mortality and nosocomial transmission. Even as the epidemic was brought under control within months, many details about the SARS coronavirus remained a mystery. The threat of another potential global outbreak continues to lurk in the background. Many valuable lessons have been learned through the SARS epidemic. It is, therefore, timely for us to review some of the respiratory pathogens that are well-known to cause nosocomial outbreaks. We need to be better armed to deal with future potential outbreaks and biohazardous situations. The importance of safeguarding the health of our medical staff and the community cannot be over-emphasised. In this paper, we review the incidence, transmission and various preventive strategies of respiratory illnesses in HCWs, in particular, new diagnostic tools, infection control management strategies, personal protective equipments, vaccination programmes and post-exposure prophylaxis.

With the recent outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and its exceptionally high transmission rate in healthcare settings, healthcare workers (HCWs) and administrators have expressed heightened concern about respiratory illnesses and their impact on health services. Some infectious diseases have long been known to pose hazards in acute-care facilities. In this review article, we address the current problems encountered in the prevention, management and control of infectious respiratory illnesses in HCWs. We will focus on the most pertinent problems: influenza, pertussis, tuberculosis (TB) and SARS.

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