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Impact of School Closings on Flu Pandemic Still Unknown

Logistics of closing schools and potential effects of this approach call for more research

WEDNESDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- Though school closures could potentially help reduce the impact of an influenza pandemic, many economic and societal aspects related to closing schools need to be further investigated, according to research published in the August issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Simon Cauchemez, Ph.D., of the Imperial College London, and colleagues conducted a review of potential benefits and adverse effects of school closure that might be relevant in an influenza pandemic.

The investigators note that historical data suggest school closure during a pandemic might reduce total cases by 15 percent and the peak attack rates by about 40 percent, though previous experiences may not be relevant in a future pandemic. In the United States, a 12-week school closure would have a high economic cost -- possibly about 6 percent of the gross domestic product. Other issues to be considered include the loss of free school meals for underprivileged children and absenteeism among health care workers who are parents.

"This Review highlights that there are still many uncertainties about the health, economic, and social implications of closing schools to mitigate an influenza pandemic. Research priorities to reduce this knowledge gap include detailed outbreak investigations in schools (before, during, and after closure), along with detailed follow-up of households of students. Such studies will provide information on the health benefits for students and their families and allow better understanding of transmission dynamics within the school and school-household interactions," the authors write.

Several co-authors reported financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies.

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