Why wouldn’t shutting schools slow the transmission of disease?

On the BBC website today I read that the government doesn’t think that shutting schools in the sutumn would slow the spread of swine flu. I don’t understand, I’m not being narky and I genuinely want someone to explain it to me!

I know that shutting schools would be tremendously inconvenient to working parents, etc etc, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t help slow the spread of the illness. In school, the kids are all over each other in their rough and tumble games, as well as being at very close quarters inside the school buildings. You can’t tell me that every child in school actually finds a tissue if they need to sneeze, and then immediately bins the tissue and washes their hands – mosts kids are far too busy doing other things to remember flu-prevention things like that! A lot of the younger kids in our school still wander round with streams of snot hanging down their faces – very hygenic! At the start and end of each day, groups of adults (who generally probably wouldn’t get into such crowded situations anywhere near as often) huddle around the doors of the schools, waiting for their children to be released.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary has said that “‘Now that the virus is established, expert advice is that there is no longer a strong case for closing schools to contain the spread of infection.”

Now, I’m not advocating mindless panic, or closing all schools without good reason, but surely if a particular part of the country seems to have a high proportion of swine flu cases, and as it has been shown that children seem to be contracting the virus more often than adults, shouldn’t we prepare for schools in higher risk areas to be closed to prevent the majority of person to person contact? I already know people who have been quarantined as it was thought that they might have swine flu in their families. Surely, closing schools in areas with a higher than average incidence of swine flu to reduce the spread of the infection would be better than having to quarantine even more people in hospitals or their own homes?

Oh, and while I’m at it, how many people with a heavy cold are going to actually stay home from work, despite the government advice to do so? In my workplace, if I have more than three instances of illness within twelve months which require time off, firstly I wouldn’t be paid for my sick leave, even if, as happened earlier this year, I was certified sick by my doctor and told to stay home. This happened to me when I had conjunctivitis and tonsillitis, and would my boss really have wanted me in work with those two combined, spreading the love to my seventy fellow department members?! Then, one more instance of sickness in that same rolling year, even if, once again, I am signed off work by my doctor, would result in my receiving a disciplinary from my employer and a note of this being made on my staff file, which could in turn affect my future career within the company. My workplace can’t be the only one to have such strict rules, so are people really going to stay home to contain the virus if they’re not 100% sure that that is what they’ve got?

I don’t know. I’m really very confused! I suppose that I’m generalising while thinking about our own family situation. It would be simple enough for me to arrange to stay home, and also when my children are out of school they don’t often mix with other children, and so we could quite easily keep away from likely ‘hotspots’ for the virus. However, working parents would find it very hard, I suppose, as well as parents who don’t really stay home a lot but are out every day taking their children to different parks and play-areas where the children would mix with others anyway.

There’s obviously no easy or practicable answer to slow down or prevent the spread of pandemic flu, other than to try to instil good hygiene measures in the whole family which would help, and to keep a wary eye for likely symptoms. I’m trying to make sure that my kids are eating well and getting enough sleep so that their bodies are as well prepared as they can be to fight off any infection, but other than that I’m stumped.

So, answers on a postcard please, as to why shutting schools wouldn’t help to slow the spread of swine flu, and also, can you tell me whether you are worried about it or not, and what measures you are taking to make sure you are ready to deal with swine flu in your own family?

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3 Responses

  1. I wasn’t overly worried about it until this weekend when I heard that one of Dan’s friends from nursery has come down with it, although it seems he’s already feeling better. As Dan was playing with him on Friday I’ve been keeping a close eye, touch wood he seems fine so far. As they’re not testing anymore I don’t know how you’re meant to know if you’ve got Swine Flu or a bit of a cold or some other virus, it seems the docs are automatically diagnosing Swine Flu if you’ve got any of the symptoms.

  2. First, you’ve got to remember that it’s just flu, and since your family is healthy and has access to health services, in the event that any of you do get it, you’ll recover quickly without any side effects.

    Secondly, they did shut the schools in the Midlands, which helped stop the kids getting it, but then it spread anyway when that happened, it was pointless keeping the schools closed because it was the equivalent of Scrat trying to plug the ice wall at the end of Ice Age 2!

  3. I heard that it’s different than other flus. Namely your average “seasonal flu” has an incubation period of 7 to 10 days, while the swine flu is quick with an incubation period of 3 to 5. So the reasoning is that a quarantine-type situation wouldn’t help prevent its spread.

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