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Vaccinating children could help control swine flu spread

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Targeting children for flu vaccination could help control the spread of pandemics such as the current swine flu, say University of Warwick researchers.

The team from the university’s department of biological sciences used computer modelling to predict the spread of pandemic flu, and to look at ways of controlling it effectively.

They showed that the disease is likely to spread fastest in densely populated areas, suggesting that these should be priority areas for tackling the spread.

The researchers argue that vaccinating entire households at random would be an inefficient use of resources, but vaccinating key individuals – such as children – would help protect those at greatest risk of the virus and also offer protection to unvaccinated adults.

This ‘herd immunity’ effect would mean that significantly less vaccine would be necessary to help control the spread of the virus than if it were offered to everyone, they say.

‘Our models suggest that the larger the household – which in most cases means the more children living at home – the more likely the infection is to spread. This doesn’t mean that everyone in the household needs to be vaccinated, but suggests that vaccination programmes for children might help control a potential pandemic,’ the authors said.

‘Although not sufficient to prevent a pandemic in themselves, such steps may support other control measures such as social distancing, antiviral drugs or quarantine,’ they added in the journal Epidemiology and Infection.

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