Increased urbanization reduced the effectiveness of school closures on seasonal influenza epidemics in China

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Abstract

Background: School closure is a common mitigation strategy during severe influenza epidemics and pandemics. However, the effectiveness of this strategy remains controversial. In this study, we aimed to explore the effectiveness of school closure on seasonal influenza epidemics in provincial-level administrative divisions (PLADs) with varying urbanization rates in China. Methods: This study analyzed influenza surveillance data between 2010 and 2019 provided by the Chinese National Influenza Center. Taking into consideration the climate, this study included a region with 3 adjacent PLADs in Northern China and another region with 4 adjacent PLADs in Southern China. The effect of school closure on influenza transmission was evaluated by the reduction of the effective reproductive number of seasonal influenza during school winter breaks compared with that before school winter breaks. An age-structured Susceptible-Infected-Recovered-Susceptible (SIRS) model was built to model influenza transmission in different levels of urbanization. Parameters were determined using the surveillance data via robust Bayesian method. Results: Between 2010 and 2019, in the less urbanized provinces: Hebei, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui, during school winter breaks, the effective reproductive number of seasonal influenza epidemics reduced 14.6% [95% confidential interval (CI): 6.2–22.9%], 9.6% (95% CI: 2.5–16.6%), 7.3% (95% CI: 0.1–14.4%) and 8.2% (95% CI: 1.1–15.3%) respectively. However, in the highly urbanized cities: Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, it reduced only 5.2% (95% CI: -0.7–11.2%), 4.1% (95% CI: -0.9–9.1%) and 3.9% (95% CI: -1.6–9.4%) respectively. In China, urbanization is associated with decreased proportion of children and increased social contact. According to the SIRS model, both factors could reduce the impact of school closure on seasonal influenza epidemics, and the proportion of children in the population is thought to be the dominant influencing factor. Conclusions: Effectiveness of school closure on the epidemics varies with the age structure in the population and social contact patterns. School closure should be recommended in the low urbanized regions in China in the influenza seasons. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

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Lei, H., Jiang, H., Zhang, N., Duan, X., Chen, T., Yang, L., … Shu, Y. (2021). Increased urbanization reduced the effectiveness of school closures on seasonal influenza epidemics in China. Infectious Diseases of Poverty, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40249-021-00911-7

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