Manitoba needs to figure out before the fall flu season whether kids should be kept home or schools closed, since children spread flu faster and for longer than anyone else, provincial infectious disease expert Dr. Greg Hammond said Sunday.
When the H1N1 virus struck Mexico, "They closed a number of public facilities. It's something that needs to be thought about for the fall," he said. "We know children are the first wave in a community, and they help spread it around.
"They shed more virus, and for a longer period of time, than do adults," Hammond said. With incubation occurring over one to three days, "If one child infects two or three other children, what you see very rapidly is a lot of children getting sick."
Those children will spread the flu to their parents and other adults, said Hammond, a former senior official in Manitoba Health who now serves as an infectious disease consultant to Health Sciences Centre and the Grace Hospital.
He would not say whether Mountain View School Division should be closing a Dauphin middle school with high absenteeism last week and some students with flu symptoms. However, he said Manitoba needs to think about possible policies before the fall flu season.
Hammond was on a panel Sunday on vaccine development at the opening of Winnipeg's four-day Canadian Public Health Association conference.
He said schools and parents should be alerted whenever absenteeism exceeds 10 per cent.
Sick kids should be kept home, although that is difficult for working parents, he said, and schools must emphasize handwashing and techniques for sneezing and coughing without spreading germs.
The H1N1 flu could force the federal and provincial governments to find a way to work together to deal with serious disease outbreaks, said Hammond, chairman of the Manitoba secretariat dedicated to preventing human papillomavirus infections, which can lead to cervical cancer.
"The H1N1 situation will challenge us to do things in a much more streamlined way," Hammond said.
"In Canada, we don't have a single immunization process -- we have 14" for the provinces, territories, and First Nations, he said. "Our provincial boundaries are very arbitrary -- they don't stop infectious diseases."
British studies have shown that closing airports does not control the spread of flu, but closing schools has a significant impact, said Dr. Mark Parrington, head of discovery for the sanofi Pasteur pharmaceutical company.
Dr. Robert Van Exan, founding chairman of the BIOTECanada vaccine industry committee, told the conference that Canada's review process is far more complicated than most other industrialized countries, and that could delay developing an H1N1 vaccine here.
Hammond agreed, but predicted that the reaction to the H1N1 outbreak could break down barriers.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we learn through H1N1 that we have to find ways to work together. This will test us all," he said.
H1N1 by the numbers
Confirmed H1N1 flu cases in Manitoba
Confirmed H1N1 cases from St. Theresa Point
People from St. Theresa Point hospitalized in Winnipeg with influenza
Confirmed H1N1 cases across Canada
H1N1 deaths across Canada (two in Ontario, one in Alberta)