Schools Urged to Join Nationwide Flu Tracker

A UK-wide programme to monitor the number of flu cases in schools and factors affecting its transmission among students is being launched today. The British Science Association is working in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who run the UK’s annual Flusurvey, to monitor flu in schools at a national scale for the first time. The project will provide critical insight into the spread of flu and engage young people first-hand in science.

Schools across the country are being encouraged to get involved in the project, which will bring real scientific data into the classroom during National Science & Engineering Week in March 2014.  Students will be able to analyse anonymised data showing the volume of flu cases and factors affecting flu transmission. Where sufficient responses are available, schools will be able to access and analyse data relating to their local area or even their own school.

The project comes at a time when surveillance of flu among young people is of particular importance. Flusurvey findings from 2012-2013 revealed the under-18 age group had the highest rates of flu and on average took three days off school to recover. This year sees the roll out of a new NHS childhood flu vaccination campaign, aiming to reduce flu virus transmission by children – the ‘key spreaders’ of flu.

The EU sponsored Flusurvey is run in 10 countries, and launched in the UK in 2009. Flusurvey is an online system for measuring influenza trends and uniquely collects data directly from the public. Last year, over 6,000 people submitted vital information, providing data which is missed through current surveillance as many people affected by flu do not visit their doctor or local hospital. The data is supplied weekly to Public Health England’s national flu surveillance programmes.

In previous years, Flusurvey has looked at the evidence of ‘man flu’ and also put to bed the myth that using public transport increases your chance of getting flu. This flu season, researchers will be looking at how exercise, diet and the number of hours spent studying impact on flu risk.

Schools will be supported with classroom materials including a lesson plan, activity ideas and student handouts to help educate pupils on the survey, encourage participation and support them in discussing the findings.  Participating schools can also benefit from various incentives which are detailed on the project’s website www.britishscienceassociation.org/flusurvey.  Every school that has at least 30 students fill in at least five weeks of symptoms surveys will receive a customised dataset for analysis during National Science & Engineering Week.

Commenting on the project, Imran Khan, CEO of the British Science Association, said: “UK school children will be at the forefront of science helping researchers understand more about flu in a landmark year for study of the virus. As well as being an important part of collating the data, they will also have the chance to examine the latest findings and trends, which may even relate to their local school or area. We hope this opportunity to engage with a live science project will show the important role that science has in many aspects of their lives.”

Dr Alma Adler, Research Fellow in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who is running the UK Flusurvey project, said: “This is a critical year for Flusurvey given that flu vaccinations will begin to be rolled out to school age children in the UK for the first time.  Young people have a great opportunity to be part of an exciting national project and gain an insight into the factors that will keep them fit and healthy for the future. The Flusurvey is vital in helping national governments control and lower the impact of flu and understand who is most likely to be affected.”

Students and the general public will be asked to register for the Flusurvey online and after some preliminary background questions, will then post regular reports on their symptoms throughout the flu season.

National Science &Engineering Week takes place from 14-23 March, 2014. The Week will see galleries, universities, schools and museums around the UK running events to showcase the real life application of science and the critical role science plays in our lives, from the fun and fantastical to the serious and profound.

Teachers can find out more about the project and the resources available by visiting: www.britishscienceassociation.org/flusurvey

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