Introduction: This paper is a report of a qualitative study of emergency and critical care nurses' perceptions of occupational response and preparedness during infectious respiratory disease outbreaks including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and influenza.
Problem: Healthcare workers, predominantly female, face occupational and personal challenges in their roles as first responders/first receivers. Exposure to SARS or other respiratory pathogens during pregnancy represents additional occupational risk for healthcare workers.
Methods: Perceptions of occupational reproductive risk during response to infectious respiratory disease outbreaks were assessed qualitatively by five focus groups comprised of 100 Canadian nurses conducted between 2005 and 2006.
Results: Occupational health and safety issues anticipated by Canadian nurses for future infectious respiratory disease outbreaks were grouped into four major themes: (1) apprehension about occupational risks to pregnant nurses; (2) unknown pregnancy risks of anti-infective therapy/prophylaxis; (3) occupational risk communication for pregnant nurses; and (4) human resource strategies required for pregnant nurses during outbreaks. The reproductive risk perceptions voiced by Canadian nurses generally were consistent with reported case reports of pregnant women infected with SARS or emerging influenza strains. Nurses' fears of fertility risks posed by exposure to infectious agents or anti-infective therapy and prophylaxis are not well supported by the literature, with the former not biologically plausible and the latter lacking sufficient data.
Conclusions: Reproductive risk assessments should be performed for each infectious respiratory disease outbreak to provide female healthcare workers and in particular pregnant women with guidelines regarding infection control and use of anti-infective therapy and prophylaxis.