As Canadian health officials grapple with plans to combat a potential outbreak of influenza A (H1N1), also known as swine flu), this fall, a major new study suggests a can’t-miss strategy to prevent its spread.

Make sure the (school) kids are all right.

In a paper published today in the journal Science, U.S. researchers say that mass inoculations of elementary and high school-aged children — and their parents — would knock out the key breeding grounds for any form of influenza.

And turning down the heat on these communicable disease cauldrons would prevent many of those most imperilled by flus — the very young and elderly — from catching the ailments in the first place.

It’s an idea that intrigues one of Canada’s top influenza experts, who will likely offer it as an option at a Health Canada meeting next week where this country’s H1N1 flu strategy will be hammered out.

“What I find interesting about this (paper) is that they’re really focusing on the fact that young kids are the incubators of this,” says Dr. Michael Gardam, head of infections disease control at Ontario’s Agency for Health Protection and Promotion.

“I like to call them viral culture media on legs. That is their purpose in life to get infected with things.”

Gardam says that the kids in turn infect their mobile parents, who cart the viruses out to the workplace, grocery stores, theatres and old age homes. Thus priority targeting for flu vaccinations is the best way to keep population-wide outbreaks at bay with any strain of the disease, the paper’s lead author says.