School closings not effective means of stopping mild outbreaks

According to an investigation recently conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine, school closings made to stop mild outbreaks of disease, like H1N1 influenza, are not cost effective.

The investigators concluded that closing offices might be helpful to halt the intrusion of H1N1, but said that when it comes to schools, the situation is different, according to

In the online journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, a team led by Daniella Perlroth concluded that when a mild outbreak occurs, the best result for cost saving measures for schools remains to distribute antiviral medication in combination with teaching social distancing techniques such as staying away from crowded places, like malls.

“This is here and now,” Perlroth said, according to “Any community in the U.S. can do these things, in real time, based on a decision by a public health officer.”

To determine what strategies worked most effectively, Perlroth and her team used a mathematical model that was so complicated it had to be run on a large number of computers.

The model, developed by Robert Glass, co-author of the study, simulates the likely patterns of person-to-person contact for a group of 10,000 people, which is about the size of a small town or suburb, according to Med.Standford.Edu. The demographics of Glass’s 10,000 are not unlike many non-urban areas in the United States.

Perlroth took the mathematical computations and then factored in the expenses of hospitalization, medication, lost work days and the added salaries used to make up school days in the summer.

The investigation revealed that the cost of closing schools was too high, considering the alternatives. With no school, for example, students would simply congregate elsewhere and spread H1N1 effectively.

“If you close the schools but all the teens head to the mall, it doesn’t work,” Douglas Owens, a research scientist at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System said, according to Med.Stanford.Edu.