When deciding whether to close schools during an influenza pandemic, authorities must weigh the likely benefits against the expected social disruption. Although schools have been closed to slow the spread of influenza, there is limited evidence as to the impact on transmission of disease.
To assess the benefits of closing schools for various pandemic scenarios, we used a stochastic mathematical model of disease transmission fitted to attack rates from past influenza pandemics. We compared these benefits with those achieved by other interventions targeted at children.
Closing schools can reduce transmission among children considerably, but has only a moderate impact on average transmission rates among all individuals (both adults and children) under most scenarios. Much of the benefit of closing schools can be achieved if schools are closed by the time that 2% of children are infected; if the intervention is delayed until 20% of children are infected, there is little benefit. Immunization of all school children provides only a slight improvement over closing schools, indicating that schools are an important venue for transmission between children. Relative attack rates in adults and children provide a good indication of the likely benefit of closing schools, with the greatest impact seen for infections with high attack rates in children.
Closing schools is effective at reducing transmission between children but has only a moderate effect on average transmission rates in the wider population unless children are disproportionately affected.
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