Background: Mathematical modelling of infectious disease is increasingly used to help guide public health policy. As directly transmitted infections, such as influenza and tuberculosis, require contact between individuals, knowledge about contact patterns is a necessary pre-requisite of accurate model predictions. Of particular interest is the potential impact of school closure as a means of controlling pandemic influenza (and potentially other pathogens).
Methods: This paper uses a population-based prospective survey of mixing patterns in eight European countries to study the relative change in the basic reproduction number (R0--the average number of secondary cases from a typical primary case in a fully susceptible population) on weekdays versus weekends and during regular versus holiday periods. The relative change in R0 during holiday periods and weekends gives an indication of the impact collective school closures (and prophylactic absenteeism) may have during a pandemic.
Results: Social contact patterns differ substantially when comparing weekdays to the weekend and regular to holiday periods mainly due to the reduction in work and/or school contacts. For most countries the basic reproduction number decreases from the week to weekends and regular to holiday periods by about 21% and 17%, respectively. However for other countries no significant decrease was observed.
Conclusion: We use a large-scale social contact survey in eight different European countries to gain insights in the relative change in the basic reproduction number on weekdays versus weekends and during regular versus holiday periods. The resulting estimates indicate that school closure can have a substantial impact on the spread of a newly emerging infectious disease that is transmitted via close (non sexual) contacts.