Stay Home and Have an Influenza Day
Who doesn’t enjoy a break from school on a snow day? For many they are blessing; a free day to have some fun, where otherwise, you would be counting sheep waiting while minutes to tick by. The good news, you may get the break you’re looking for. The bad news, there will have to be a flu pandemic first.
A recent study in Alberta has shown that by closing schools, we could potentially slow the spread of a flu pandemic. The study in the Annals of Internal Medicine analyzed data on H1N1 infections in the province during the 2009 pandemic.
View the study summary:
How does shutting down the school reduce the spread of a flu pandemic? Well, it turns out children play an important role. “School-age children were fundamentally important drivers of [pandemic H1N1] transmission in 2009,” the study’s lead author, Prof. David Earn of McMaster University in Hamilton.
“We suggest that school closures [either local or regional] should be seriously considered if a pandemic occurs during the school year.”
Researchers used the data they collected to plot lab-confirmed H1N1 cases on a graph. A correlation between school closed for the summer and a drop in incidence began to emerge.
“Using state-of-the-art modelling, we then demonstrated that transmission was reduced by at least 50 percent,” Earn said.
50 percent by school closures alone! That’s quite the change, but not the only factor. The model also showed that a large drop in temperature seemed to influence a spike in H1N1 cases throughout the province, but the weather changes were less important than closing school for the summer.
By chance, schools in Alberta happened to be closed for during the first wave of H1N1 infections in summer 2009, but the observations suggest that closing all schools could affect the course of future epidemics, the researchers said.
On an interesting note, during the pandemic, public health authorities recommended against school closures. While other provinces tightened criteria to test for respiratory viruses when the first wave of the pandemic grew in intensity, Alberta did not; this gave the researchers higher-quality data to model.
The study highlights the important issue of how to prevent the spread of influenza. However, the verdict is still out on the long-term benefits of this course of action. Perhaps future studies will shed some light.