Closing schools is effective in slowing the spread of infectious disease and should be considered during pandemic outbreaks, researchers in Canada suggest.
Lead author David Earn, a professor in the department of mathematics and statistics and member of McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, and colleagues used high-quality data about the incidence of influenza infections in Alberta during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.
The researchers showed that when schools closed for the summer, the transmission of infection from person to person was sharply reduced.
"Our study demonstrates that school-age children were important drivers of H1N1 transmission in 2009," Earn said in a statement. "The data that we obtained were so good that our plots immediately revealed a huge drop in incidence when schools were closed for the summer. Using state-of-the-art modeling, we then demonstrated that transmission was reduced by at least 50 percent."
The model also indicated that seasonal changes in weather significantly affected influenza transmission in cities in Alberta, but that they were much less important than school closures, Earn added.
The findings strongly suggest closing schools as a preventative measure is a strategy worth seriously considering to significantly reduce the rate of transmission in the event another SARS or 1918 flu emerges, Earn concluded.