Predicting Flu Epidemics

Using epidemiologic surveillance, researchers were able to predict influenza outbreaks weeks before they occur.


Perhaps a seasonal link exists between “epidemic waves” of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections and influenza,. but forecasting seasonal patterns with accuracy isn’t easy due to the many varieties of flu and environmental factors. However, researchers from the Public Health Center of Valencia and University of Valencia, Spain, say they have a way to predict an influenza epidemic 3 to 4 weeks in advance. And that could allow for more effective vaccination programs and influenza prophylaxis.

They used 2 epidemiologic surveillance systems: The first, the analysis of epidemiologicol surveillance system (AVE) in use in eastern Spain since 2004, collects real-time data from notifiable disease outbreaks and alerts. The second, Microbiologica surveillance network of the Comunitat Valenciana (RedMIVA), collects cases of RSV.

The researchers conducted a study that lasted from week 40 (2010) to week 8 (2014). During that time, 239,321 people reported cases of flu, and 19,676 cases of RSV were recorded, with 5,112 laboratory confirmed. Most (85%) of the RSV cases were children aged < 1 year .

Using the data from the surveillance systems, the researchers found that the peak of maximum activity of the influenza virus appears at least 3 weeks after the RSV peak. Interestingly, they also found evidence suggesting that RSV infection has a short-term protective effect against human influenza type A (H1N1) infection. The seasons with the highest number of recorded cases of RSV coincided with the lowest number of influenza cases. In both seasons, the predominant influenza virus type was H1N1.

Míguez A, Iftimi A, Montes F. Epidemiol Infect . 2016;144(12):2621-2632.

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