Health care workers and pertussis: an underestimated issue

Med Klin (Munich). 2010 Dec;105(12):882-6. doi: 10.1007/s00063-010-1153-0. Epub 2011 Jan 16.


Purpose: Communicable and vaccine-preventable airway infections are a major public and occupational health issue. The epidemiology of pertussis has changed, with unprotected adults being the main source of infections. Thus, the prevention of a transmission from health care workers (HCWs) to patients is an important strategy to control this communicable infection. The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) at the Robert Koch-Institute in Germany has explicitly recommended that HCWs ought to be vaccinated against pertussis. However, vaccination rates among HCWs remain low. This study was meant to evaluate the attitudes of HCWs towards the pertussis vaccination and to determine the correlation between the influenza and pertussis vaccination status of HCWs.

Methods: An anonymous questionnaire was distributed to HCWs at a German university hospital.

Results: Overall, we found a disturbingly low level of awareness concerning official recommendations as to immunizations (35.6%) and the personal risk assessment of acquiring a work-related pertussis infection (23.2%). In general, both aspects were frequently associated with a refusal to get immunized. A strong correlation between the immunization status of pertussis and influenza was found among physicians: overall, 93.1% of physicians who were vaccinated against pertussis were also vaccinated against influenza. Nurses showed significantly weaker correlation rates as well as lower vaccination rates (p<0.05).

Conclusions: Misconceptions about pertussis and low vaccination rates were prevalent among HCWs, particularly nurses. Hospital-based pertussis vaccination campaigns should focus on the risk of nosocomial pertussis transmission and on the new recommendations for pertussis immunization among adults and HCWs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross Infection / prevention & control*
  • Cross Infection / transmission
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Hospitals, University / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Professional-to-Patient / prevention & control*
  • Influenza Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human / transmission
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Personnel, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pertussis Vaccine / administration & dosage*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Whooping Cough / prevention & control*
  • Whooping Cough / transmission*
  • Young Adult


  • Influenza Vaccines
  • Pertussis Vaccine