Short-term school closures may worsen flu pandemics, study finds

December 30, 2009

Closing schools for less than two weeks during a flu pandemic may increase infection rates and prolong an epidemic, say University of Pittsburgh researchers in a study published ahead-of-print and online in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. The findings, developed from a series of computer simulations based on U.S. census data, indicate that schools may need to be closed for at least eight weeks in order to significantly decrease the spread of infection.

The value of school closures has been debated as a possible strategy to stem or slow the current H1N1 . Indeed, hundreds of schools across the country have been closed at different periods during 2009 for fear the virus would spread more quickly if they stayed open.

"Although closing schools may seem like a reasonable way to slow the spread of flu, we found that it was not effective unless sustained for at least eight weeks after implementation," said study lead author, Bruce Lee, M.D., M.B.A., assistant professor or medicine, epidemiology and biomedical informatics, University of Pittsburgh. Closing schools quickly at the start of an outbreak was much less important than keeping them closed continually throughout the epidemic, he added.

According to study authors, short-duration school closures can increase transmission rates by returning susceptible students back to school in the middle of an epidemic when they are most vulnerable to infection.

The study also found that identifying sick students individually and keeping them from attending school had minimal impact on an epidemic. In addition, there were no significant differences between individual school closures and system-wide closures in mitigating an epidemic.

The study was based on an agent-based computer simulation model of Allegheny County, Pa., that represented the county's population, school systems, workplaces, households and communities. Simulations were based on the movement of residents each weekday from their households to designated workplaces or schools, and included 1.2 million people―200,000 of whom were school-aged children. The study also included more than 500,000 households and nearly 300 schools.

Explore further: Virtual city used to study flu pandemic

Related Stories

Pitt receives grant to create virtual models for epidemics

July 31, 2009

As the world prepares for a probable resurgence of H1N1 in the coming months, University of Pittsburgh researchers are controlling the spread of infectious diseases virtually with a $13.4 million National Institutes of Health ...

Swine flu school closings could cost billions

September 30, 2009

(AP) -- Closing schools and day care centers because of swine flu could cost between $10 billion and $47 billion, a report by the Brookings Institution think tank found.

When should flu trigger a school shutdown?

November 4, 2009

As flu season approaches, parents around the country are starting to face school closures. But how bad should an influenza outbreak be for a school to shut down? A study led by epidemiologists John Brownstein, PhD, and Anne ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.