TUESDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to the flu, closing schools as well as other public places and canceling large gatherings are effective ways to guard against the spread of the disease, according to new research.

The study, published in the May 24 online edition of PLoS Medicine, revealed that so-called "social distancing" significantly reduced flu transmission rates in Mexico in 2009.

Researchers at the Fogarty International Center at the U.S. National Institutes of Health analyzed a three-wave flu pandemic throughout Mexico, which began in the spring of 2009 and continued into the summer and fall that same year. The study found those hardest hit by the flu outbreak were infants and children aged 5 to 14 years old.

Social distancing measures, including two 18-day mandatory school closures in the spring, however, reduced flu transmission rates in Mexico up to 37 percent. The researchers noted that reported cases of the flu resurged when schools reopened.

The study concluded that mandatory school closings as well as other public closings and cancellations could help prevent and lessen future flu pandemics.

"We believe this study has implications for improving preparedness plans in future pandemics," Gerardo Chowell, a Fogarty investigator and faculty member at Arizona State University, said in a news release from the NIH. He added that deaths stemming from flu pandemics could occur up to two years after an initial outbreak. "We must remain vigilant and continue to monitor the circulation and health burden of the pandemic A/H1N1 and co-circulating influenza viruses in the coming years."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides details on influenza, including flu activity and surveillance.