Comparing pandemic to seasonal influenza mortality: Moderate impact overall but high mortality in young children

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Abstract

Background: We assessed the severity of the 2009 influenza pandemic by comparing pandemic mortality to seasonal influenza mortality. However, reported pandemic deaths were laboratory-confirmed - and thus an underestimation - whereas seasonal influenza mortality is often more inclusively estimated. For a valid comparison, our study used the same statistical methodology and data types to estimate pandemic and seasonal influenza mortality. Methods and Findings: We used data on all-cause mortality (1999-2010, 100% coverage, 16.5 million Dutch population) and influenza-like-illness (ILI) incidence (0.8% coverage). Data was aggregated by week and age category. Using generalized estimating equation regression models, we attributed mortality to influenza by associating mortality with ILI-incidence, while adjusting for annual shifts in association. We also adjusted for respiratory syncytial virus, hot/cold weather, other seasonal factors and autocorrelation. For the 2009 pandemic season, we estimated 612 (range 266-958) influenza-attributed deaths; for seasonal influenza 1,956 (range 0-3,990). 15,845 years-of-life-lost were estimated for the pandemic; for an average seasonal epidemic 17,908. For 0-4 yrs of age the number of influenza-attributed deaths during the pandemic were higher than in any seasonal epidemic; 77 deaths (range 61-93) compared to 16 deaths (range 0-45). The ≥75 yrs of age showed a far below average number of deaths. Using pneumonia/influenza and respiratory/cardiovascular instead of all-cause deaths consistently resulted in relatively low total pandemic mortality, combined with high impact in the youngest age category. Conclusion: The pandemic had an overall moderate impact on mortality compared to 10 preceding seasonal epidemics, with higher mortality in young children and low mortality in the elderly. This resulted in a total number of pandemic deaths far below the average for seasonal influenza, and a total number of years-of-life-lost somewhat below average. Comparing pandemic and seasonal influenza mortality as in our study will help assessing the worldwide impact of the 2009 pandemic. © 2012 van den Wijngaard et al.

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van den Wijngaard, C. C., van Asten, L., Koopmans, M. P. G., van Pelt, W., Nagelkerke, N. J. D., Wielders, C. C. H., … Kretzschmar, M. (2012). Comparing pandemic to seasonal influenza mortality: Moderate impact overall but high mortality in young children. PLoS ONE, 7(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031197

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