It doesn't matter if it's preschool or college, kids seem to get sick a lot when they are in school. So it comes as no surprise that a group of Stanford researchers confirmed what most parents already know — kids are amazingly good at spreading germs while in school.
As I write this post, I am simultaneously taking care of two sick kids, one with a cold and the other recovering from the latest stomach bug to make the rounds at her school. So this information could not be more obvious to me — or more timely. But even I have to say that after looking at the incredible data that these Stanford researchers put together, it's amazing that my kids are ever healthy at school.
For the study, researchers used portable Wi-Fi devices to understand how often flu could be passed from one person to the next at school. The entire population of a U.S. high school, from staff to teachers to kids, were outfitted with portable Telos B devices that had been programmed to detect when another device was within 10 feet, or roughly the maximum distance across which a cough or sneeze can transmit the flu virus every 20 seconds.
They measured the number of these interactions on a typical January flu-season day, and found that the 788 students and staff at the school came in close proximity with one another 762,868 times throughout the course of one day.
Using this data as a map, the researchers then created models of how a real flu outbreak would spread, under a number of scenarios. They found that subjects met up and transmitted germs so frequently that isolated cases of vaccination — such as when a small group or a random group were vaccinated — made no difference. The only way vaccination would significantly reduce the spread of the disease was if most of the students were inoculated.
The second best way to reduce the spread of the flu was to quickly take the sick students out of the population. When kids with the flu quickly went home, it helped prevent new flu transmissions in 68 percent of the study simulations.
What's the lesson? While vaccination could help protect your family from getting the flu, it won't really help the community as a whole unless most people do it. But most importantly, if your kids have the flu, keep them home. It doesn't do anybody any good to make them tough it out at school.
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