Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bird Flu And Schools: Thinking The Unthinkable

Now that bird flu has been confirmed in the United Kingdom, some folks there are speculating on how to protect school children and staff in the event that human-to-human transfer of the disease occurs:
Further details tonight emerged of Government plans to deal with a human flu pandemic.

The chief medical officer has advised schools should be planning closures in case the bird flu virus mutates into a form that can be transferred from human to human.

Sir Liam Donaldson has warned that a pandemic could kill 100,000 schoolchildren. He said school closures could halve that number.

In a letter to schools minister Jacqui Smith - leaked to The Sunday Times - he wrote: "Until the pandemic virus emerges we cannot know for certain which groups would be most vulnerable.

"If all age groups were affected equally, and the virus was particularly severe (ie at the upper end of our assumptions) the excess deaths in school-age children could be as high as 100,000. This would mean that potentially 50,000 deaths might be prevented by school closures."

He added: "Based on the indications from the modelling, a policy of school closures could reduce the number of deaths in children. For this reason, I would recommend that schools should be planning on the basis that they may have to close for part or all of the pandemic."

Sir Liam said a policy of shutting all schools in an area as soon as one case was confirmed could also mitigate the impact on the NHS.

There is no firm evidence that the H5N1 strain of bird flu can pass easily from person to person. But there are fears it could mutate or mix with human flu viruses to create a new virus.

It was recently reported that the Home Office is considering mass burials as part of preparations for a possible pandemic.

A "prudent worst case" assessment suggested 320,000 could die in the UK if the H5N1 virus mutated into a form contagious to humans.
See an article on the British government's plan for coping with a possible pandemic right here.

I'm not worrying too much about a possbile bird flu pandemic this school year... But what about next year?

Update:(04/09) The London Times has more.
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