Medical researchers in Britain are proposing closing public schools this autumn to curb the spread of swine flu. So far, 29 people have died from the virus in Britain and like governments elsewhere, authorities are grappling with how to contain the disease.
British researchers at London's Imperial College say closing schools could go a long way to ease the burden on hospitals by reducing the number of swine flu cases.
Dr. Simon Cauchemez is the lead author of a report published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. He says school closures could keep many of the most vulnerable, including children under 18, from transmitting it further.
"Reducing the number of cases at the peak of the outbreak can be important if you want to ease the burden on the health care system," said Cauchemez. "So basically you spread the cases over a longer period or duration so that hospitals can better cope with the cases they have on a daily basis."
Officials in Britain and other countries have been hesitant to close schools because of the disruption it causes.
In fact, the researchers acknowledge that school closures would likely not reduce the overall number of cases and could be costly.
Cauchemez says despite these drawbacks, health officials need to be prepared.
"The main point we want to make here is that the decision to close schools should be based on the severity of the disease," he said. "Indeed, you wouldn't want to close schools during a pandemic that looks like a seasonal outbreak. But that's an option you'd like to consider if the disease was getting more severe."
Health officials are gearing up for what could be a robust flu season when the weather starts to cool again in the Northern Hemisphere.
According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization Tuesday, H1N1 swine flu has killed more than 700 people around the world since the outbreak began four months ago.