New research has revealed that the risk of psychological distress looms large over female health care workers and nurses.

The study, conducted by the University of Sheffield, UK, claims to be the largest global review of factors associated with distress amongst health care workers during an infectious disease outbreak. This includes Covid-19, SARS, bird flu, swine flu, and Ebola.

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Consistent evidence

For the study, researchers examined factors such as demographic characteristics, age, sex, and occupation as well as social-psychological, and infection-related factors in over 1,43,000 health care workers globally. The review of 139 studies included data gathered between 2000 and November 2020.

Lead author Dr Fuschia Sirois, Reader in Social and Health Psychology at the university, said: “Consistent evidence indicated that being female, a nurse, experiencing stigma and having contact or risk of contact with infected patients were the biggest risk factors for psychological distress among health care workers.”

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“By analysing data from previous infectious disease outbreaks such as SARS, bird flu, and swine flu, it appears that distress for health care workers can persist for up to three years after the initial outbreak,” they added.

“As the world continues to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic it is so important that we identify the health care workers who are most at risk for distress and the factors that can be modified to reduce distress and improve resilience,” Sirois said.

Sirois further revealed that younger people who are physically less likely to be affected by the infectious disease were less experienced in dealing with an outbreak professionally, therefore causing them to be more distressed.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry .