Closing Schools Could Stop the Flu

By Caleb Hellerman Cnn Medical Supervising Producer | St. Joseph News-Press, February 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

Closing Schools Could Stop the Flu


Caleb Hellerman Cnn Medical Supervising Producer, St. Joseph News-Press


(CNN) -- In June 2009, the new H1N1 flu strain was spreading like wildfire in western Canada, just as it was in dozens of countries around the world. But within a few weeks, the flames were nearly out, and a new study pinpoints a possible reason: summer vacation.

On June 12, high schools in the province of Alberta let out for the summer. On June 19, the middle schools finished, followed by the elementary schools on June 26. Researchers from McMaster University compared those dates to the incidence of new H1N1 cases in Alberta, and using a complex statistical analysis, estimated that closing schools reduced flu transmission among school children by more than 50%.

That, in turn, reduced transmission in the population at large. The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, support the idea that closing schools could reduce or slow down a dangerous outbreak of influenza.

Many public health experts believe that closing schools could reduce the spread of the flu, but hard evidence has been scarce, said study author Dr. David Earn.

"There's been a lot of work to see if there's an effect [from school closure] at all. Everyone thinks it ought to work, but it's one thing to think that, and another to demonstrate that it does."

The results, he wrote in the paper's conclusion, are "compelling evidence."

The finding is important but not surprising, says Dennis Chao, a researcher in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

"If you know anyone with little kids, they get sick all the time, and kids get the flu more than adults. If you interrupt transmission in the highest transmission group, that's a good way to stop the flu," says Chao, who has also studied the effects of school closure.

Indeed, the Canadian study is not the first to measure those effects. Medical historian Howard Markel found that closing schools - - along with other measures, like banning public gatherings -- slowed flu transmission during the deadly pandemic of 1918. …

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