School Closures May Help Limit Swine Flu Damage

Nurses COVID


Closing schools during a severe flu pandemic may cut infection rates as much as 40 percent at the peak of the outbreak because of children's role in spreading the disease, U.K. researchers said.

School closures might be even more effective against swine flu than against seasonal flu, according to a study published today in The Lancet. The research weighed the pros and cons of such a move and stopped short of endorsing it.

"The H1N1 pandemic could become more severe, and the current cautious approach of not necessarily recommending school closure in Europe and North America might need reappraisal in the autumn," the Imperial College London researchers wrote.

Governments worldwide are battling the virus, which has taken root across the globe faster than any previous flu pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. Britain's chief medical officer last week said the National Health Service is bracing for as many as 65,000 deaths from the disease.

"Children are thought to be important vectors of transmission, more infectious and susceptible to most influenza strains than adults, and high contact rates in schools favor transmission," wrote Simon Cauchemez and Neil Ferguson from the college's department of infectious disease epidemiology.

Impact on Economy

So far, 60 percent of the world's reported 39,620 swine flu cases occurred in those aged 18 or younger, according to the study. The researchers used data from intentional or coincidental school closures during past influenza outbreaks, including a study of French school holidays over a 21-year period that found school holidays prevented one in six flu cases and a study of U.S. cities during the 1918 pandemic.

Cauchemez, Ferguson and their colleagues also weighed the social and economic impact of closing schools. A 12-week closure could cost as much as 6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and up to 1 percent of U.K. GDP, the study said, and could disproportionately affect poor families.

"In a severe pandemic, countries might be ready to pay those high social and economic costs," they wrote.

The research will be published in the August edition of the Lancet Infectious Diseases, which focuses on flu.

indigo girl

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The Opposite Side of the Argument

Why bother closing schools?

I expect that parents will make their own decisions on whether or not to send their childrent to school. From reading media reports on what has already happened in the past spring, parents will be furious if they are not notified of swine flu cases at the school that their child is attending. That is the type of information that they need to know to make decisions. Withholding that data is what causes community backlashes of anger as well it should. Transparency helps build trust. Nondisclosure of the facts does not inspire confidence.

If schools are closed then parents need to assume responsibility for making their kids stay home.

Dr. Paul Van Buynder, the deputy chief medical officer of health, said in an interview on Monday that it is likely children will catch the swine flu virus when classes resume in September, but shutting down schools wouldn't do much to protect them.

"Your chances of being infected are just as high in the supermarket or the local sports park as they are in the school settings,' Van Buynder said.

"So for that reason, I think we would need special circumstances before we start imposing on the education department to close their schools."

He said it's up to parents to use common sense when children show symptoms of H1N1, such as keeping them home from child care, summer camps and later this fall, from school.


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I think that guy is wrong. Supermarkets never have the concentration of children that schools have.

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