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Should School Close When the Flu Hits? New Evidence for Educators

A study described today in the "Science Daily" blog offers some timely advice for educators on the optimal time for shutting down schools when a flu outbreak strikes.

"You'd want to get a school closed before an epidemic peaks, to prevent transmission of the virus, but you also don't want to close a school unnecessarily," explains John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and study co-author. However, he says, most schools base those decisions on fear, expediency, or politics.

To develop some evidence-based guidance for schools, Brownstein and colleagues from the Children's Hospital Boston Informatics Program and the University of Nigata in Japan analyzed data from 54 Japanese elementary schools over four consecutive flu seasons. They tested dozens of school-closing scenarios and finally decided that the ideal early-warning trigger should be when a school has an absentee rate of 4 percent or more for two days in a row.

And, no, I don't know if this rule of thumb would hold for swine flu, which, from what I read, seems to be more contagious than the garden-variety flu virus.The Centers for Disease Control is advising against closing schools, but that's a switch from advice it gave last spring.

At any rate, you can read the full study for yourself. It appears in the November issue of a journal called Emerging Infectious Disease.

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