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When should flu trigger a school shutdown?
Date:11/4/2009

nd #3 performed similarly, with the greatest sensitivity and specificity for predicting a flu outbreak (i.e., the fewest missed predictions and the fewest "false positives.") Both gave better results than the single-day scenario (#1). The researchers suggest that scenario #2 (with a sensitivity of 0.84 and a specificity of 0.77) might be the preferred early warning trigger, balancing the need to prevent transmission with the need to minimize unnecessary closures.

"Our method would give school administrators or government agencies a basis for timely closure decisions, by allowing them to predict the escalation of an outbreak using past absenteeism data," says Hoen. "It could be used with data from schools in other communities to provide predictions. It would leave decision-making in the hands of local officials, but provide them with a data-driven basis for making those decisions."

Japan makes a good model for studying influenza in schools because it closely monitors school absenteeism due to flu, requires testing for the flu virus in students who become ill, and has a track record of instituting partial or complete school closures during outbreaks. However, Brownstein cautions that the scenarios might play out differently in the U.S. than they would in Japan, mainly because students here aren't required to be tested for influenza as they are in Japan, so it's less certain whether they actually have the flu. Also, the vaccination status of students in this study was unknown.

Last spring, during the early days of the H1N1 influenza pandemic, the CDC recommended first a 7-day school closure, then a 14-day closure after appearance of the first suspected case. Later, as more became known about the extent of community spread and disease severity, the CDC changed the recommendation to advise against school closure unless absentee rates interfered with school function. CDC's current guidelines (

Contact: James Newton
james.newton@childrens.harvard.edu
617-919-3110
Children's Hospital Boston
Source:Eurekalert

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