Lone Simonsen and colleagues use a two-stage statistical modeling approach to estimate the global mortality burden of the 2009 influenza pandemic from mortality data obtained from multiple countries.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Assessing the mortality impact of the 2009 influenza A H1N1 virus (H1N1pdm09) is essential for optimizing public health responses to future pandemics. The World Health Organization reported 18,631 laboratory-confirmed pandemic deaths, but the total pandemic mortality burden was substantially higher. We estimated the 2009 pandemic mortality burden through statistical modeling of mortality data from multiple countries.
Methods and Findings
We obtained weekly virology and underlying cause-of-death mortality time series for 2005–2009 for 20 countries covering ∼35% of the world population. We applied a multivariate linear regression model to estimate pandemic respiratory mortality in each collaborating country. We then used these results plus ten country indicators in a multiple imputation model to project the mortality burden in all world countries. Between 123,000 and 203,000 pandemic respiratory deaths were estimated globally for the last 9 mo of 2009. The majority (62%–85%) were attributed to persons under 65 y of age. We observed a striking regional heterogeneity, with almost 20-fold higher mortality in some countries in the Americas than in Europe. The model attributed 148,000–249,000 respiratory deaths to influenza in an average pre-pandemic season, with only 19% in persons <65 y. Limitations include lack of representation of low-income countries among single-country estimates and an inability to study subsequent pandemic waves (2010–2012).
We estimate that 2009 global pandemic respiratory mortality was ∼10-fold higher than the World Health Organization's laboratory-confirmed mortality count. Although the pandemic mortality estimate was similar in magnitude to that of seasonal influenza, a marked shift toward mortality among persons <65 y of age occurred, so that many more life-years were lost. The burden varied greatly among countries, corroborating early reports of far greater pandemic severity in the Americas than in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. A collaborative network to collect and analyze mortality and hospitalization surveillance data is needed to rapidly establish the severity of future pandemics.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Every winter, millions of people catch influenza—a viral infection of the airways—and hundreds of thousands of people (mainly elderly individuals) die as a result. These seasonal epidemics occur because small but frequent changes in the influenza virus mean that the immune response produced by infection with one year's virus provides only partial protection against the next year's virus. Influenza viruses also occasionally emerge that are very different. Human populations have virtually no immunity to these new viruses, which can start global epidemics (pandemics) that kill millions of people. The most recent influenza pandemic, which was first recognized in Mexico in March 2009, was caused by the 2009 influenza A H1N1 pandemic (H1N1pdm09) virus. This virus spread rapidly, and on 11 June 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that an influenza pandemic was underway. H1N1pdm09 caused a mild disease in most people it infected, but by the time WHO announced that the pandemic was over (10 August 2010), there had been 18,632 laboratory-confirmed deaths from H1N1pdm09.
Why Was This Study Done?
The modest number of laboratory-confirmed H1N1pdm09 deaths has caused commentators to wonder whether the public health response to H1N1pdm09 was excessive. However, as is the case with all influenza epidemics, the true mortality (death) burden from H1N1pdm09 is substantially higher than these figures indicate because only a minority of influenza-related deaths are definitively diagnosed by being confirmed in laboratory. Many influenza-related deaths result from secondary bacterial infections or from exacerbation of preexisting chronic conditions, and are not recorded as related to influenza infection. A more complete assessment of the impact of H1N1pdm09 on mortality is essential for the optimization of public health responses to future pandemics. In this modeling study (the Global Pandemic Mortality [GLaMOR] project), researchers use a two-stage statistical modeling approach to estimate the global mortality burden of the 2009 influenza pandemic from mortality data obtained from multiple countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained weekly virology data from the World Health Organization FluNet database and national influenza centers to identify influenza active periods, and obtained weekly national underlying cause-of-death time series for 2005–2009 from collaborators in more than 20 countries (35% of the world's population). They used a multivariate linear regression model to measure the numbers and rates of pandemic influenza respiratory deaths in each of these countries. Then, in the second stage of their analysis, they used a multiple imputation model that took into account country-specific geographical, economic, and health indicators to project the single-country estimates to all world countries. The researchers estimated that between 123,000 and 203,000 pandemic influenza respiratory deaths occurred globally from 1 April through 31 December 2009. Most of these deaths (62%–85%) occurred in people younger than 65 years old. There was a striking regional heterogeneity in deaths, with up to 20-fold higher mortality in Central and South American countries than in European countries. Finally, the model attributed 148,000–249,000 respiratory deaths to influenza in an average pre-pandemic season. Notably, only 19% of these deaths occurred in people younger than 65 years old.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that respiratory mortality from the 2009 influenza pandemic was about 10-fold higher than laboratory-confirmed mortality. The true total mortality burden is likely to be even higher because deaths that occurred late in the winter of 2009–2010 and in later pandemic waves were missed in this analysis, and only pandemic influenza deaths that were recorded as respiratory deaths were included. The lack of single-country estimates from low-income countries may also limit the accuracy of these findings. Importantly, although the researchers' estimates of mortality from H1N1pdm09 and from seasonal influenza were of similar magnitude, the shift towards mortality among younger people means that more life-years were lost during the 2009 influenza pandemic than during an average pre-pandemic influenza season. Although the methods developed by the GLaMOR project can be used to make robust and comparable mortality estimates in future influenza pandemics, the lack of timeliness of such estimates needs to be remedied. One potential remedy, suggest the researchers, would be to establish a collaborative network that analyzes timely hospitalization and/or mortality data provided by sentinel countries. Such a network should be able to provide the rapid and reliable data about the severity of pandemic threats that is needed to guide public health policy decisions.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001558.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about influenza for patients and professionals, including archived information on H1N1pdm09
Flu.gov, a US government website, provides access to information on seasonal and pandemic influenza H1N1pdm09
The World Health Organization provides information on influenza and on the global response to H1N1pdm09, including a publication on the evolution of H1N1pdm09 (some information in several languages). Information on FluNet, a global tool for influenza surveillance, is also available
Public Health England provides information on pandemic influenza and archived information on H1N1pdm09
More information for patients about H1N1pdm09 is available through Choices, an information resource provided by the UK National Health Service
More information about the GLaMOR project is available