Computer Simulation Offers Alternative Ways to Stop Disease in Schools

by Lillian Pao (’18)

Fig. 1: A child being called home sick from school may cause a disruption to the lifestyle of his family, friends, and others around him.

Pandemics and seasonal infectious diseases, such as the influenza virus, have drastic negative health and economic consequences. One particular intervention strategy, school closures, can result in significant economic impacts because parents or guardians have to temporarily leave the workforce in order to take care of their child. School closures because of an epidemic outbreak normally last for one to two weeks, and their effectiveness is up for debate. Professor Benjamin J. Ridenhour from the University of Notre Dame proposed a reasonable alternative with computer simulation models to show how other alternative school-based disease interventions are better and more effective than traditional school closures.

In order to investigate alternative intervention strategies, Ridenhour and his team of researchers used simulation software to create a typical school setting in order to attempt to simulate the number of contacts among students. The simulation monitored student movement and contacts. They weighed the contacts using the time in each location, total contact duration, probability of escaping infection, and probability of transmitting the disease per minute of contact. From the simulations, Ridenhour revealed that increased classroom time, lunch time, schoolyard restrictions, and different schedules could significantly reduce contact rates among infected and non-infected students. These restrictions placed within schools can avoid disrupting the education of children and minimize the social and economic losses of their parents.



1. B. J. Ridenhour, et al., Controlling the spread of disease in schools. Plos One (2011), doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029640.

2. Image acquired from



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