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Keywords:

  • influenza;
  • surveillance;
  • pandemic

Abstract

Objective: To describe the epidemiological characteristics of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic virus (pH1N1) over the 2009 and 2010 influenza seasons in Australia and New Zealand (NZ) and compare them with expectations based on previous pandemics.

Methods: Laboratory-confirmed influenza and influenza-like illness (ILI) data were collected from established general practitioner sentinel surveillance schemes in NZ, Victoria and Western Australia (WA) throughout the 2009 and 2010 winter influenza seasons. Respiratory swabs from a sample of ILI patients were tested for influenza type and subtype. ILI rates and laboratory-confirmed influenza data were analysed by age group and over time. Morbidity, mortality and reproductive number data were collated from the published literature.

Results: Peak ILI rates and the percentage of influenza-positive swabs from ILI patients from all sentinel surveillance schemes were considerably lower in 2010 than 2009. Compared to the population, cases of ILI were over-represented in the young. While the age distributions in NZ and WA remained consistent, ILI cases were significantly younger in Victoria in 2009 compared to 2010. In Victoria, laboratory-confirmed pH1N1 comprised up to 97% of influenza-positive swabs in 2009 but only 56–87% in 2010. Mortality and hospitalisations were lower in 2010. The effective reproduction number (R) for pH1N1 was estimated to be 1.2–1.5 in NZ and WA, similar to estimated R values for seasonal influenza. Data from the surveillance systems indicated differences in the epidemiology of pH1N1 compared to expectations based on previous pandemics. In particular, there was no evidence of a second pandemic wave associated with increased mortality, and complete influenza strain replacement did not occur.

Implications: Pandemic planning needs to accommodate the potential for influenza viruses to produce pandemics of various infectiousness and degrees of severity.