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Ann Intern Med. 1996 Dec 1;125(11):917-28.

Occupationally acquired infections in health care workers. Part II.

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  • 1Infectious Disease Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10021, USA.

Erratum in

  • Ann Intern Med 1997 Apr 1;126(7):588.



Health care workers are at occupational risk for a vast array of infections that cause substantial illness and occasional deaths. Despite this, few studies have examined the incidence, prevalence, or exposure-associated rates of infection or have considered infection-specific interventions recommended to maintain worker safety.


To characterize the type and frequency of infections, the recommended interventions, and the costs of protecting health care workers. Part II of this two-part review focuses on infections caused by bloodborne organisms, organisms spread through the oral-fecal route, and organisms spread through direct contact. It also reviews established interventions for controlling transmission.


A MEDLINE search and examination of infectious disease and infection control journals.


All English-language articles and meeting abstracts published from January 1983 to February 1996 related to occupationally acquired infections among health care workers were reviewed. Outbreak- and non-outbreak-associated incidence and prevalence rates were derived, as were costs to prevent, control, and treat infections in health care workers.


Occupational transmission to health care workers was identified for numerous diseases, including infections caused by bloodborne organisms (human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, Ebola virus), organisms spread through the oral-fecal route (salmonella, hepatitis A virus), and organisms spread through direct contact (herpes simplex virus, Sarcoptes scabiei). Most outbreak-associated attack rates range from 15% to 40%. Occupational transmission is usually associated with violation of one or more of three basic principles of infection control: handwashing, vaccination of health care workers, and prompt placement of infectious patients into appropriate isolation.


The risk for occupationally acquired infections is an unavoidable part of daily patient care. Occupationally acquired infections cause substantial illness and occasional death among health care workers. Further studies are needed to enhance compliance with established infection control approaches. As health care is being reformed, the risk for and costs of occupationally acquired infection must be considered.

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