Background: The optimal control of communicable diseases requires accurate information on incubation periods, periods of infectiousness and the effectiveness of exclusion. We collected the available evidence for a wide range of infections and infestations and produced evidence-based guidelines for their control in schools and preschools.
Methods: A thorough MEDLINE literature search was conducted on the incubation period, period of infectiousness and effectiveness of exclusion for 41 infections. The quality of the information obtained was indicated by levels of evidence. The information was used to produce guidelines on exclusion, and the recommendations were graded according to the levels of evidence available. Grades A, B and C represented strongly, reasonably and poorly evidence-based recommendations, respectively.
Results: The quality of data obtained was highly variable. Information on incubation periods was obtained for all 41 infections and was generally of good quality. Information on periods of infectiousness and effectiveness of exclusion was of a lesser quality and was found for only 11 and 4 conditions, respectively. There were 3 Grade A, 17 Grade B and 21 Grade C recommendations on exclusion. Examples of exclusion periods include: 5 days for chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis and scarlet fever; and 24 h from the cessation of diarrhea for most gastrointestinal diseases In contrast to existing guidelines exclusion was not recommended for school age children with hepatitis A.
Conclusions: We have been able to present the best available data on the incubation periods and periods of infectiousness of 41 childhood infections. It was possible to produce strongly or reasonably evidence-based guidelines on exclusion periods for approximately one-half of the infections.