Editor's comment

24th July 2009 at 01:00

Swine flu. Not the two words most teachers traditionally expect to have ringing in their ears during the summer holidays. Unfortunately for the profession, it is what is likely to happen after the holidays that everyone wants to talk about. This week's death of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Glasgow from the virus has concentrated minds.

As the H1N1 virus has multiplied, it has become obvious that children are particularly vulnerable. Sixty per cent of those who have been infected are under 18. By this week, 652 children had been hospitalised; 53 of those were in intensive care.

Children are mini and mobile germ laboratories, or "super-spreaders" as the current brutal nomenclature terms them. Schools are, therefore, prime disease incubators. By the end of last session, no more than a handful in Scotland had been affected, while more than 1,000 in England and Wales had reported cases and 130 had been closed.

The earlier school break in Scotland seems to have reduced the spread of the disease here. Researchers believe that early and prolonged school closures could reduce infection rates by 40 per cent. Previous pandemics in other countries seem to have been curtailed when schools were shut - only if closure happened before the spread of the infection peaked. But, if they did close, when would they open again, given that swine flu is likely to be around for many months?

The governments in Edinburgh, Westminster and Cardiff have said they will assess the situation over the summer. As they do so, they should keep a sense of proportion. In a bad year, 20,000 people die from flu in the UK. Most fatalities so far have had underlying health problems. There is little evidence of that changing.

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