Local public health workers would play a vital role in
responding to an influenza pandemic, from monitoring the
spread of illness to organizing the distribution of
medications to communicating critical health information to
But more than 40 percent of public health employees
surveyed said they are unlikely to report to work during a
pandemic, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public
Health and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in
The survey, conducted in Maryland by the Bloomberg
for Public Health Preparedness, 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.
The results of the survey are published in the April
edition of the journal BMC Public Health.
For the study, researchers surveyed 308 public health
workers from three Maryland counties: Carroll, Dorchester
and Harford, which were 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.
In the survey, clinical staff members, such as
physicians and nurses, were more likely to say they would
report for work; technical or support staff, including
computer entry staff and clerical workers, were the least
likely. The willingness to report was strongest among
employees who perceived an importance in their work and
responsibilities during a pandemic. Less than one-third of
all public health workers said they felt they would have an
important role in the response to a pandemic.
"Current preparedness plans account for some personnel
shortages mainly due to illness from influenza. However,
our results show that half of local public health workers
would be unlikely to report during an extreme crisis. Three
out of four technical and support workers don't even think
they will be asked to report to work during a pandemic,"
said Ran Balicer, lead author of the study and a member of
the health sciences faculty at Ben-Gurion University's
Co-author Daniel J. Barnett, of the Center for Public
Health Preparedness, said, "The public health workforce
will play a critical role in managing an influenza
pandemic, but the workforce is not yet prepared for this
crisis. We need more training 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."
Additional authors of the study are Saad B. Omer and
George S. Everly Jr., both with the Center for Public
Funding for the study was provided by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.