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July 21, 2009

Should schools close for swine flu?

Public health officials worldwide are preparing for the onslaught of the fall flu season, expecting swine flu to come back with a vengance. So far, the virus has killed some 700 people around the globe and drug makers are working in a hurry to have a vaccine ready by October. 

But that's a good two months after school children -- one of the groups at highest risk for the virus, known as H1N1 -- return to their classrooms. What if an outbreak hits before vaccines are ready? Should schools be closed?

A study in the August issue of the British journal Lancet Infectious Diseases concludes it's a tough call and the decision to close schools depends on how severe the pandemic becomes.

On one hand, closing schools might slow transmission, giving more time for a vaccine to be finished while easing the burden on hospitals. But researchers also said that massive school closures are unlikely to have a major impact on the total cases. And closing schools has some serious economic and social costs, from the crush to a household's income from parents who must take off work to care for a child, to the larger economic impact on workplaces from massive absenteeism. (The economic toll alone: the cost of a 12-week school closure could be between 1 percent and 3 percent of GDP, according to the study. Yikes.)

So far, kids have been disproportionately affected by the virus, with some 60 percent of cases occurring in people 18 or younger.

Back when the outbreak started in the spring, U.S. health officials played it safe, ordering schools with a confirmed case of swine flu to close for a week. But they backed off that policy after it became clear that the virus was spreading rapidly and appeared no more severe than seasonal flu.

Still, medical experts warn the virus may become more severe this fall. Clearly, vaccine timing will be key. While health officials say they hope to have a vaccine by October, there are more questions than answers right now about who gets it and when. Here's an interesting timeline put together by WebMD on some possibilities.

So, for now, what do you think? Could closing schools help stop the flu?

Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty images

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 1:24 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Swine flu/H1N1
        

Comments

Only close schools if it is obvious that more kids are out sick then in school

Only close schools if it is obvious that more kids are out sick then in school

i think it should be the parents choice if the send thier children to school before the vaccine is released because while the government insists that "most" people will only have a mild affect some dont and all 3 of my children have other conditions that could make the swine flu fatal to them and im pregnant which as we have seen causes great complications if the H1N1 virus is caught so YES i think schools should be closed or it should be compulsory for children and teachers to wear masks and latex gloves or as i said earlier it should be the parents choice and the dept of education should help accomadate parents who decide to keep their chil,dren out of school until a vaccine is available.

It is really surprising that people are so scared of H1N1 virus, though this virus is not at fierce as the media is making it. This virus is spreading from person-to-person, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread. There might not be any vaccine available right now to protect against novel H1N1 virus. But there are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza.

Yes, the schools certainly should close. The CDC is not communicating honestly with the public. This has potential to be the most horrific experience that any of us have ever been through in our lives. If schools would stay closed, it would at least buy us some time until the vaccine is available and mitigate the crisis somewhat.

We evidently learn nothing from history. In 1918, the same kinds of "mild" and "it's just flu" messages were being sent via the media. Honest communication is key in helping us manage this pandemic, and so far, we're not getting it.

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About Picture of Health
Meredith CohnMeredith Cohn has been a reporter since 1991, covering everything from politics and airlines to the environment and medicine. A runner since junior high and a particular eater for almost as long, she tries to keep up on health and fitness trends. Her aim is to bring you the latest news and information from the local and national medical and wellness communities.

Andrea K. WalkerAndrea K. Walker knows it’s weird to some people, but she has a fascination with fitness, diseases, medicine and other health-related topics. She subscribes to a variety of health and fitness magazines and becomes easily engrossed in the latest research in health and science. An exercise fanatic, she’s probably tried just about every fitness activity there is. Her favorites are running, yoga and kickboxing. So it is probably fitting that she has been assigned to cover the business of healthcare and to become a regular contributor to this blog. Andrea has been at The Sun for nearly 10 years, covering manufacturing, retail , airlines and small and minority business. She looks forward to telling readers about the latest health news.
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