School closure is often considered as an influenza control measure, but its effects on transmission are poorly understood. We used 2 approaches to estimate how school holidays affect the contact parameter (the per capita rate of contact sufficient for infection transmission) for influenza using primary care data from England and Wales (1967-2000). Firstly, we fitted an age-structured susceptible-infectious-recovered model to each year's data to estimate the proportional change in the contact parameter during school holidays as compared with termtime. Secondly, we calculated the percentage difference in the contact parameter between holidays and termtime from weekly values of the contact parameter, estimated directly from simple mass-action models. Estimates were combined using random-effects meta-analysis, where appropriate. From fitting to the data, the difference in the contact parameter among children aged 5-14 years during holidays as compared with termtime ranged from a 36% reduction to a 17% increase; estimates were too heterogeneous for meta-analysis. Based on the simple mass-action model, the contact parameter was 17% (95% confidence interval: 10, 25) lower during holidays than during termtime. Results were robust to the assumed proportions of infections that were reported and individuals who were susceptible when the influenza season started. We conclude that school closure may reduce transmission during influenza outbreaks.
- disease transmission