Models Assess Effect of School Closures in Flu Pandemic

Closures alone have limited role in mitigation, but longer closures could delay epidemic peak

TUESDAY, Jan. 12 (HealthDay News) -- As an isolated approach, closing schools would have a limited effect on an influenza pandemic, but lengthy closures could forestall the peak of the epidemic and allow for other strategies such as vaccinations to be implemented, according to research published online Dec. 23 in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

Bruce Y. Lee, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues analyzed data from a computer simulation model of Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh. The model incorporated the county's individuals, households, workplaces and schools.

The researchers found that keeping sick students out of schools had minimal effect on the epidemic. Closing individual schools or entire school systems had a similar impact on several measurements of the epidemic, including overall attack rate and peak incidence of infected individuals. The authors further note that closings of less than eight weeks had little impact on overall attack rate, and durations of up to two weeks slightly increased the overall attack rate.

"Our study suggested that short-term school closures as an isolated mitigation strategy (under the conditions we explored) will do little to mitigate overall attack rates during an influenza epidemic, but closures of four weeks or longer did have the effect of decreasing the peak incidence of illness," the authors write. "School closures may delay the epidemic peak for up to a week, which may provide more time to implement a second more effective intervention such as vaccination."

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