Clin Microbiol Infect 2012; 18: 955–962
In temperate regions, influenza typically arrives with the onset of colder weather. Seasonal waves travel over large spaces covering many climatic zones in a relatively short period of time. The precise mechanism for this striking seasonal pattern is still not well understood, and the interplay of factors that influence the spread of infection and the emergence of new strains is largely unknown. The study of influenza seasonality has been fraught with problems. One of these is the ever-shifting description of illness resulting from influenza and the use of both the historical definitions and new definitions based on actual isolation of the virus. The compilation of records describing influenza oscillations on a local and global scale is massive, but the value of these data is a function of the definitions used. In this review, we argue that observations of both seasonality and deviation from the expected pattern stem from the nature of this disease. Heterogeneity in seasonal patterns may arise from differences in the behaviour of specific strains, the emergence of a novel strain, or cross-protection from previously observed strains. Most likely, the seasonal patterns emerge from interactions of individual factors behaving as coupled resonators. We emphasize that both seasonality and deviations from it may merely be reflections of our inability to disentangle signal from noise, because of ambiguity in measurement and/or terminology. We conclude the review with suggestions for new promising and realistic directions with tangible consequences for the modelling of complex influenza dynamics in order to effectively control infection.