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Closing Schools During Flu Outbreaks

Have you heard about schools closing during flu season?

Will that help stop the flu?

Closing Schools During Flu Outbreaks

While it is not uncommon to hear about schools closing at the peak of flu season for a “deep clean,” there is no general recommendation that they close to help combat the flu.

“Studies have shown that the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for only 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on a surface. Therefore, special sanitizing processes beyond routine cleaning, including closing schools to clean every surface in the building, are not necessary or recommended to slow the spread of flu, even during a flu outbreak.”

Influenza Guidance for School Administrators

So why do schools close?

“We do not recommend closing schools to prevent flu transmission. However, schools may choose to close or dismiss students if a large number of absences prevent normal school functioning.”

Influenza (Flu) in Schools

In general, it is because so many people are sick, that then it becomes harder to keep the school functioning safely.

Why?

Mostly because it is not only students that get sick. Teachers, counselors, and everyone else who works in the school can get sick too.

“The length of time school should be dismissed will vary depending on how severe the flu is and how many people are sick. When the decision is made to dismiss students, CDC recommends doing so for 5-7 calendar days.”

CDC on How long will schools have to stay dismissed?

Still, closing a school should typically be a last resort, as it can be very disruptive for everyone who needs to make arrangements to watch their kids who suddenly aren’t in school.

It is also important to understand that closing the school is not the only option officials have.

Call your local and state health experts before closing your school for the flu.
Call your local and state health experts before closing your school for the flu.

They can instead consider some type of selective dismissal, for example, only sending high risk students home or only specific classes or grades with a lot of flu cases.

What about Tamiflu?

“A mild form of Influenza A H1N1 2009 was confirmed in a secondary school affecting mainly those in the boarding house. Cases identified were treated, but post-exposure prophylaxis with oseltamivir administered to the remaining school population actually halted the outbreak, after social distancing interventions had not succeeded.”

Asiedu-Bekoe on Mass Oseltamivir Prophylaxis Halts Pandemic Influenza A H1N1 2009 Outbreak in a Secondary School in Ashanti Region, Ghana

While Tamiflu can help prevent flu infections when taking prophylactically, there are no recommendations for its use to control outbreaks. Even if it did work, the concern would be that we would quickly see resistance among flu viruses.

Tamiflu can be used if high risk kids and adults are exposed to the flu though.

What to Know About Closing Schools During Flu Season

There is typically no general recommendation to close schools during flu season, but if you do, after consulting with local and state health officials, you should encourage the students to actually stay home! It doesn’t do any good if sick kids aren’t in school, but are still mixing with others in the community.

More on Schools Closing During Flu Season

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