Closing schools cheap way to prevent virus spread

April 10th, 2008 - 10:55 am ICT by admin  

Washington, April 10 (IANS) Shutting down schools for a few days is a cost-effective way to check the spread of viruses, according to a new study. Researchers at Imperial College London, working with colleagues in France, used computer modelling to explore how school closure affected the spread of a theoretical pandemic H5N1 avian flu virus mutated to pass between humans.

The study found that school closures would slow and flatten the pandemic, reducing the numbers becoming ill in the worst week of the outbreak by 40 percent.

Researchers suggest that this could be important in reducing pressures on healthcare services during this time so that hospitals would be better able to cope with any pandemic.

The study was based on an analysis of data collected since 1984 by doctors in France, to see how the rate of influenza transmission is reduced during the country’s school holidays.

Data showed that holidays lead to a 20 to 29 percent reduction in the rate at which influenza is transmitted to children, but that they have no detectable effect on the contact patterns of adults.

The data also revealed that children were responsible for the spread of around 46 percent of all infections.

However, they caution that closures for prolonged periods would be a very costly measure, particularly because it would impact working parents.

In addition, the number of healthcare professionals available to care for those with the virus might fall if some needed to stay home to look after their children.

Simon Cauchemez, a co-author of the study, said: “However, its (closure) effectiveness would very much depend on what other measures, like vaccination or antiviral drugs, were put in place as well.”

“Even though the children would not be in school, they would still mix with other children and adults in the community and spread the virus through this contact,” said Neil Ferguson, co-author.

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