School-closure for mitigating influenza: a scientific study provides new insights

Are school-closure policies effective for mitigating seasonal and pandemic influenza? In a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), an international team of scientists including ISI Foundation Researcher Maria Litvinova measured the behavior of the population during regular school days and when classes are closed as the consequence of an influenza mitigation policy. Based on these measurements and detailed socio-demographic data researchers developed an innovative data-driven predictive-modeling framework to reduce the uncertainty surrounding the effect of school-closure policies.

Over the course of the 2015/2016 influenza season in Russia, researchers performed a diary-based contact survey to estimate the patterns of social interactions before and during the implementation of reactive school-closure strategies (that in Russia are performed every year). When the school-closure policy was in place, they measured a significant reduction in the number of contacts made by students and workers, leading to an attack rate of the observed influenza season being significantly lower than the one simulated without the implemented reactive strategies.

 Not only the work provides empirical evidence on the behavior of the population during the implementation of the school-closure strategies, but it also makes available a hybrid survey-modeling approach to estimate human-mixing patterns and simulate the spread of infectious diseases with an unprecedented level of detail, whose potential in terms of supporting the health decision-making process goes well beyond the assessment of school-closure strategies.

“Reactive school closure weakens the network of social interactions and reduces the spread of influenza”, Maria Litvinova, Quan-Hui Liu, Evgeny S. Kulikov, and Marco Ajelli, PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, June 17, 2019. Link