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Do people with symptoms of an infectious illness follow advice to stay at home? Evidence from a series of cross-sectional surveys about presenteeism in the UK

Publication date: 

30 May 2022


BMJ Open 2022;12:e060511


Rubin GJ, Smith LE, Amlot R, Fear NT, Potts HWW and Michie S

Publication type: 



Abstract Objectives To assess the percentage of people in the UK with cough, fever or loss of taste or smell who have not had a positive COVID-19 test result who had been to work, to shops, socialised or provided care to a vulnerable person in the 10 days after developing symptoms. To investigate whether these rates differed according to the type of symptom, what the participant thought the cause of their symptoms was and whether they had taken a COVID-19 test. Design Four online cross-sectional surveys using non-probability quota sampling method (n=8547). Setting Data were collected across the UK from 20 September to 3 November 2021, via a market research company. Participants Aged over 16 years living in the UK. Primary outcome measures Out-of-home activity. Results 498 participants reported one or more symptoms and had not had a positive COVID-19 test result. Within that group, about half of employed participants had attended work while symptomatic (51.2%–56.3% depending on the symptom, 95% CIs 42.2% to 65.6%). Rates of other contact behaviours ranged from 31.4% (caring for a vulnerable person after developing a cough: 95% CI 24.3% to 38.4%) to 61.5% (shopping for groceries or pharmacy after developing a cough: 95% CI 54.1% to 68.9%). There were no differences according to type of symptom experienced or what the participant felt might be the cause. People who had taken a COVID-19 test were less likely to go out shopping for non-essentials than people who had not taken a test. Conclusion Many people in the UK with symptoms of an infectious disease were not following government advice to stay at home if they believed they had an infectious illness. Reducing these rates may require a shift in our national attitude to the acceptability of people attending work with infectious illnesses.