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Social distancing is one of the community mitigation measures that may be recommended during influenza pandemics. Social distancing can reduce virus transmission by increasing physical distance or reducing frequency of congregation in socially dense community settings, such as schools or workplaces. We conducted a systematic review to assess the evidence that social distancing in non-healthcare workplaces reduces or slows influenza transmission.
Electronic searches were conducted using MEDLINE, Embase, Scopus, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, CINAHL, NIOSHTIC-2, and EconLit to identify studies published in English from January 1, 2000, through May 3, 2017. Data extraction was done by two reviewers independently. A narrative synthesis was performed.
Fifteen studies, representing 12 modeling and three epidemiological, met the eligibility criteria. The epidemiological studies showed that social distancing was associated with a reduction in influenza-like illness and seroconversion to 2009 influenza A (H1N1). However, the overall risk of bias in the epidemiological studies was serious. The modeling studies estimated that workplace social distancing measures alone produced a median reduction of 23% in the cumulative influenza attack rate in the general population. It also delayed and reduced the peak influenza attack rate. The reduction in the cumulative attack rate was more pronounced when workplace social distancing was combined with other nonpharmaceutical or pharmaceutical interventions. However, the effectiveness was estimated to decline with higher basic reproduction number values, delayed triggering of workplace social distancing, or lower compliance.
Modeling studies support social distancing in non-healthcare workplaces, but there is a paucity of well-designed epidemiological studies.
Systematic review registration number
PROSPERO registration # CRD42017065310.