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Most health care workers do not intend to receive pertussis vaccination, despite their increased risk of acquiring and transmitting the infection

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a contagious infection of the respiratory tract. Its incidence in the United States has increased significantly in recent years, with a rise from 1.8 to 8.9 cases per 100,000 individuals from 1994 to 2004. Health care workers (HCWs) are particularly at risk of both acquiring pertussis—because of their contact with infected patients and the waning protection of childhood vaccinations—and transmitting the infection to others, especially their patients, coworkers, and family members. Although vaccination can effectively prevent the spread of pertussis in adults, the vast majority of HCWs do not intend to receive it, according to a new study.

Of the HCWs surveyed, 87 percent did not plan to get the pertussis vaccine, while 13 percent either had already received it or intended to receive it. The most common reasons cited by those who did not plan to receive a vaccination were a perceived lack of recommendations and misconceptions about pertussis vaccination and infection. As for those who intended to get vaccinated, the primary reason was to protect their patients and family from getting whooping cough.

The analysis identified four positive predictors of receiving the vaccine: a physician recommendation, awareness of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for pertussis vaccination for HCWs, encouragement from a coworker, and the belief that HCWs may spread pertussis to others. Two negative predictors were also identified: the presence of children at home and employment as a nurse.

This study was conducted at Vanderbilt University Medical Center using a self-administered, Web-based survey sent to 14,893 potentially eligible employees. Only the 1,819 employees who completed the survey and anticipated direct physical contact with patients in the upcoming year were analyzed. The research was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13833).

More details are in "Healthcare workers' knowledge and attitudes about pertussis and pertussis vaccination," by William P. Goins, M.D., William Schaffner, M.D., Kathryn M. Edwards, M.D., and Thomas R. Talbot, M.D., M.P.H., in the November 2007 Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology 28(11), pp.1284-1289.

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