Study shows benefits of school closures during flu outbreaks

A recent study sponsored by the U.S. government found that closing schools during a serious flu outbreak can potentially keep down hospitalization rates.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, analyzed two Texas communities during the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak. In one community, local schools were closed as a precaution. In the other, the schools were left open, according to Reuters.

In the community where the schools were closed, area emergency rooms admitted fewer patients for influenza-related complications. Among children ages six and older, there was no increase in flu-related ER trips, but that rate doubled in the area where schools remained open.

"The effect was most dramatic among school-age children," Dr. Martin S. Cetron of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, Reuters reports.

Cetron said skeptics have often doubted that closing schools during an outbreak would have much of an effect during a major epidemic.

"They've said, well, people will just congregate in malls or other public places," Cetron said, according to Reuters.

Cetron said that schools are unique in comparison to other public places because children are in close contact with one another all day long.

"Should this be an arrow in our quiver? I think the answer is 'yes,'" Cetron said, Reuters reports.