Closing Schools for the Flu

Researchers find that short, localized school closures are unlikely to help reduce spread of influenza

(RxWiki News) When there is an outbreak of flu or other epidemics, selective school closures are considered one way to reduce the number of cases. However, new research shows that this limited tactic may be ineffective.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK used mathematical models to see how selective school closures affect the burden on certain hospitals. They found that short, localized closures do not reduce the burden on certain hospitals. Even with such selective closures, many hospitals still exceed capacity. In fact, the researchers did not see a significant difference in the burden put on hospitals until at least half of English schools were closed.

According to Dr. Thomas House from the University of Warwick's Mathematics Institute and the university's Complexity Science research group, the ineffectiveness of the short, selective closures may suggest instead that a large-scale, coordinated school closure may be required in the face of a serious pandemic, even if closing such a large number of schools can be extremely expensive and disruptive to children's education.

The authors contend that current data explains a lot about our ability to control pandemics. However, they call for help to create larger data sets for their mathematical models. They believe that larger data sets will provide information for a more in-depth understanding of people's contact patterns and how flu travels from person to person.

For this flu season (beginning Oct. 3, 2010), the CDC reports over 14,000 cases of flu. With a few more months to go in this year's flu season, the CDC recommends that everyone get vaccinated in order to protect themselves and to protect against the spread of the disease - especially children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses.

The new study is published in the biological sciences journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Review Date: 
February 2, 2011