Closing schools in the event of an infectious disease pandemic could have a significant role in reducing illness transmission, according to a new study.
Niel Hens, from Hasselt and Antwerp University, Belgium, conducted a study with the assistance of a team of European researchers to reach the conclusion that the spread of diseases on weekends/holidays were significantly lesser than on school days.
The researchers used previously published data from Belgium, England and Wales, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Poland and The Netherlands to estimate the effects of school closure on the number of close contacts people make in a day.
Hens said: "Mathematical models of how infectious diseases spread from person to person through close contacts rely on assumptions regarding the underlying transmission process.
"One of these assumptions is that school closure will result in reduced exposure for children. Until now, however, the exact impact of this measure has not been proven".
The researchers claimed contacts are reduced by about 10 percent when schools are closed.
Hens added: "Children are important spreaders of many close contact pathogens due to their frequent and intimate social contacts, their general hygiene, and perhaps their increased shedding. The reduced opportunity for contact we describe here would be a great benefit in a pandemic situation".
"If we can assume that school closure in a pandemic situation resembles school closure during holiday periods, then our results show that such a strategy would have significant impact on disease transmission, of about 21percent.
"Of course, this is a conservative estimate as, during a pandemic, typical weekend activities with a strong social component such as team sports and cultural outings may not take place.
"On the other hand, the expected large macroeconomic costs of school closures would have to be balanced against these benefits".
The study has been published in the open access journal BMC Infectious Diseases.