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THL: Medical staff do not have much higher coronavirus infection chance

The health body released statistics showing the risk for healthcare workers was similar to other working-age people.

Sairaanhoitaja auttaa toista hoitajaa laittamaan suojamaskin päälle Kuopion pääterveysasemalla.
Nurses were infected with coronavirus at work in only 30 percent of cases, THL data showed. Image: Sami Takkinen / Yle

Healthcare workers had a similar coronavirus infection rate to other working-age people last year, statistics released by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) show.

THL's figures for 2020 show that out of a total of 36,650 coronavirus infections in Finland, 30,424 were among working-age people. Of those, 2,601 were diagnosed in healthcare workers.

That number means medical workers accounted for 8.5 percent of all coronavirus infections among working-age people in Finland last year.

Figures from 2019 show that around 7.4 percent of working people are employed in the healthcare sector.

Most infections outside the workplace

THL found that in 30 percent of cases nursing staff contracted the virus at work. Thirty-three percent of infections came from close social contacts, for example from family members or circles of friends.

In 37 percent of cases among nursing staff the source of the infection remains unknown.

"As with many other workers for whom remote working is not possible, it can be difficult for healthcare workers to avoid social contact. For this reason, infections are possible on the way to work, in break rooms and in customer-facing situations if hygiene measures are not sufficient," THL infectious diseases specialist Tuula Hannila-Handelberg said in a statement.

Five percent of healthcare workers infected with the coronavirus were hospitalised. Of those, 18 percent were sent to intensive care.

There has been no reported case of a healthcare worker in Finland dying from the illness.

Infections spiked early on

The rates of infection among medical staff peaked in April and December 2020, reflecting trends seen among the general population.

Last April, they accounted for 17 percent of all coronavirus cases among working-age people in Finland.

"In the spring of last year there was high demand for hospital care and people were still getting used to the new protection measures. At the same time, testing was targeted both at at-risk groups and healthcare personnel, which partly explains the high proportion of infections last spring. In summer there were few infections in general, and the need for hospital care was low," Hannila-Handelberg said.

Women accounted for 82 percent of infections among healthcare workers last year, with men seeing 18 percent of cases. The gender divide in infections corresponds to the gender distribution of workers in the sector.

The median age of healthcare workers who caught the virus in 2020 was 40 years.

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