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Closing schools 'could cut flu spread by fifth'

London, November 27, 2009

Closing schools could cut the transmission of H1N1 pandemic flu by a fifth but the negative macroeconomic impact of closures must be balanced against the benefits, scientists said on Friday.

Researchers looked at data from eight European countries and found closing schools in the event of an infectious disease pandemic like H1N1 would reduce close contacts by 10 per cent and cut virus spread by 21 per cent.

'Children are important spreaders of many close contact pathogens due to their frequent and intimate social contacts, (and) their general hygiene,' said Niel Hens, from Hasselt and Antwerp University in Belgium, who led the research team.

'The reduced opportunity for contact ... would be a great benefit in a pandemic situation.'

Thousands of children were told to stay away from their schools to try to stop the spread of H1N1 when it first came to Britain in April, and there have also been sporadic closures in other countries in Europe.

The World Health Organisation, which declared H1N1 flu a pandemic in June, says it is up to national governments to decide whether to close schools.

Most national authorities have decided against the move since the virus has spread widely in many populations and closing schools would mean key healthcare and other workers would have to stay away from work to care for their children -- reducing output and hurting already suffering economies.

Hens' study used data from Belgium, Britain, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Poland and the Netherlands to estimate the effects of regular school closures on the number of close contacts people make in a day.

They found that, in general, contacts are reduced by about 10 per cent when schools are closed.

'If we can assume that school closure in a pandemic situation resembles school closure during holiday periods, then our results show that such a strategy would have significant impact on disease transmission, of about 21 per cent,' they wrote in the study in the BioMed Central Infectious Diseases journal.

'On the other hand, the expected large macroeconomic costs of school closures would have to be balanced against these benefits.” – Reuters




Tags: London | flu | H1N1 | Closing schools | Transmission |

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