Background: Working in healthcare is often considered a risk factor for influenza; however, this risk has not been quantified. We aimed to systematically review evidence describing the annual incidence of influenza among healthy adults and healthcare workers (HCWs).
Methods and findings: We searched OVID MEDLINE (1950 to 2010), EMBASE (1947 to 2010) and reference lists of identified articles. Observational studies or randomized trials reporting full season or annual influenza infection rates for healthy, working age adult subjects and HCWs were included. Influenza infection was defined as a four-fold rise in antibody titer, or positive viral culture or polymerase chain reaction. From 24,707 citations, 29 studies covering 97 influenza seasons with 58,245 study participants were included. Pooled influenza incidence rates (IR) (95% confidence intervals (CI)) per 100 HCWs per season and corresponding incidence rate ratios (IRR) (95% CI) as compared to healthy adults were as follows. All infections: IR 18.7 (95% CI, 15.8 to 22.1), IRR 3.4 (95% CI, 1.2 to 5.7) in unvaccinated HCWs; IR 6.5 (95% CI, 4.6 to 9.1), IRR 5.4 (95% CI, 2.8 to 8.0) in vaccinated HCWs. Symptomatic infections: IR 7.5 (95% CI, 4.9 to 11.7), IRR 1.5 (95% CI, 0.4 to 2.5) in unvaccinated HCWs, IR 4.8 (95% CI, 3.2 to 7.2), IRR 1.6 (95% CI, 0.5 to 2.7) in vaccinated HCWs.
Conclusions: Compared to adults working in non-healthcare settings, HCWs are at significantly higher risk of influenza.