School closures reduce flu transmission

Closing schools leads to 'dramatic' reductions in influenza transmission, halving the rate at which the infection spreads, researchers in Canada have found.

School closures reduce flu transmission (Photograph: Rex Features)
School closures reduce flu transmission (Photograph: Rex Features)

Dr David Earn and colleagues from McMaster University in Ontario created mathematical models to analyse data on the spread of pandemic H1N1.

They used the models to look at the effect of weather patterns and the school calendar on the speed at which influenza cases spread.

The researchers found that the end of the autumn term had a major effect on reducing the first wave of the 2009 pandemic.

In addition, the return to school in the New Year played a large part in starting the second wave of cases.

Dr Earn and his team believe that school closure reduced transmission among school-age children by more than 50%.

‘School closure vastly reduced transmission in school-age children, which substantially reduced the incidence of influenza (initially in school-age children and within a few weeks, in the entire population).’

The researchers argue that school-age children ‘were fundamentally important drivers of pandemic H1N1 transmission in 2009’.

‘Systematically reducing transmission in this age group could substantially mitigate the effects of future pandemics,’ they said.

The researchers suggest that local or regional school closures ‘should be seriously considered if a pandemic occurs during the school year’.

They said their findings also supported targeting schoolchildren for interventions aimed at interrupting influenza transmission, such as vaccination, hygiene measures and preventive treatment.

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