According to new research in the U.S. in the event the world is subjected to a bird flu pandemic, four in every ten health professionals will stay away from work.
The researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in the U.S. and Israel's Ben-Gurion University surveyed 308 public health workers from three Maryland counties selected because their population sizes were comparable to those covered by 96 percent of the nation's public health departments serving communities of 500,000 people or fewer.
The survey, also found that 66 percent of public health workers felt they would put themselves at risk of infection if they were to report to work during a pandemic.
Ran Balicer, MD, MPH, lead author of the study a member of the health sciences faculty at Ben-Gurion University's Epidemiology Department, say local public health workers would be vital in the response to a pandemic, from monitoring the spread of illness, to organizing the distribution of medications, and to communicating critical health information to the public.
It appears that physicians and nurses, were more likely to say they would report for work, whereas technical or support staff, were the least likely to turn up.
According to the results, the willingness to report to work was strongest among employees who perceived an importance in their work and responsibilities during a pandemic.
This perception was evidently lowest among technical and support workers.
It seems less than one-third of all public health workers felt they would have an important role in the response to a pandemic.
The researchers say if almost 50% stay home it would seriously undermine the emergency response.
In the UK experts say health workers are fully prepared to work through a flu pandemic and there have been no suggestions that staff will not turn up for work.
GPs there have been sent information packs about what they need to do in response to an outbreak and the government is stockpiling 14.6m courses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, which health workers will be the first to receive, and has promised to buy in enough vaccine to treat the entire population.
Co-author, Daniel J. Barnett, MD, MPH, of the Bloomberg School's Center for Public Health Preparedness says the public health workforce is not yet prepared for such a crisis and more training is needed for public health workers, particularly for those in technical and support roles, so they clearly understand the importance of their work in the event of a pandemic.
The results of the survey are published in the current edition of the journal BMC Public Health.