Kids Spread Germs

Source:  Kids Spread Germs    Tag:  spread germs
There's an interesting short article in the October 2012 issue of Scientific American, which I was reading last night.

Under the banner Target the Super-Spreaders, Kathleen A Ryan proposes that the best way to tackle flu is not by vaccinating the elderly, the immuno-compromised and the pregnant. It is actually by vaccinating all schoolchildren between the ages of about 5 and 18.

The article doesn't seem to be online, so here are a few key extracts:
[T]he most effective way to protect the elderly, and everyone else, is to target kids ... Schools are virus exchange systems, and children are "super-spreaders" — they "shed" more of the virus for longer periods than adults.

Computer-modelling studies suggest that immunizing 20 percent of children in a community is more effective at protecting those older than 65 than immunizing 90 percent of the elderly. Another study suggests that immunizing 70 percent of schoolchildren may protect an entire community (including the elderly) from flu.

Perhaps the best example of the effectiveness of childhood vaccination comes from Japan. The 1957 flu pandemic prompted the Japanese to start a school-located childhood vaccination program. For at least 10 years vaccination against influenza was mandatory for all children. Excess deaths from influenza and pneumonia ... fell by half ... The study showed that for every 420 schoolchildren immunized, one life was saved, predominantly among the elderly. Once the program ended, immunization rates fell, and death rates rose dramatically over the next few years.

In Alachua County, Florida ... a school-located influenza vaccination program has been in full operation since 2009. Implemented as a coalition of schools, health departments and community advocates ... the program administers FluMist nasal spray, a live attenuated vaccine, free of charge to students, from pre-K to 12th grade, in public and private schools regardless of insurance status. Immunization rates of elementary students have reached 65 percent — enough to reduce the incidence of influenza in Alachua County during the past two flu seasons to nearly zero.

School-wide vaccinations would require a big conceptual change in immunization strategies, involving schools, communities, paediatricians and health departments. Who will fund and lead such an effort?
Well who'd have guessed it? Kids spread germs. Sounds a sensible strategy to me. But it needs a paradigm healthcare thinking. Just a little something else for the NHS to get its teeth into!