Night-shift nurses at greater risk of infections, research suggests

Nurses and other shift workers are more at risk of infections because of their disrupted body clock, research suggests. 
Night nurse

Nurses and other shift workers are more at risk of infections because of their disrupted body clock, research suggests. 

The circadian rhythm affects the ability of viruses to replicate and spread between cells, with those whose body clock is out of ‘normal’ human synchrony most affected, a study found. 

Importance of vaccines

This adds weight to the importance of these workers getting flu vaccines, the researchers at the University of Cambridge said. 

The team looked at mice infected with herpes at different times of day, measuring virus infection and spread, with the findings published in the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences. 

Those in the ‘resting phase’ of the body clock around sunrise were also ten times more likely to see the virus spread or replicate than those in the ‘active’ part of the day. 

Time of day

The time of day had no influence on the spread of virus for those with a disrupted body clock. 

Dr Rachel Edgar, the study’s first author, said: 'This indicates that shift workers, who work some nights and rest some nights, and so have a disrupted body clock, will be more susceptible to viral diseases. 

'If so, then they could be prime candidates for receiving the annual flu vaccines.'

RCN guidance on nurses and shift work, published in 2012, suggests nurses do the following to get a good sleep:

  • Develop a bedtime routine, such as relaxing with a book or having a bath. 
  • Avoid fatty or heavy foods before bed, opting for a light meal which is easier to digest but will stave off hunger.

RCN guidance on the occupational health and safety of shift workers