Synthesising evidence to estimate pandemic (2009) A/H1N1 influenza severity in 2009-2011

18 Mar 2019

Knowledge of the severity of an influenza outbreak is crucial for informing and monitoring appropriate public health responses, both during and after an epidemic. However, case-fatality, case-intensive care admission and case-hospitalisation risks are difficult to measure directly. Bayesian evidence synthesis methods have previously been employed to combine fragmented, under-ascertained and biased surveillance data coherently and consistently, to estimate case-severity risks in the first two waves of the 2009 A/H1N1 influenza pandemic experienced in England. We present in detail the complex probabilistic model underlying this evidence synthesis, and extend the analysis to also estimate severity in the third wave of the pandemic strain during the 2010/2011 influenza season. We adapt the model to account for changes in the surveillance data available over the three waves. We consider two approaches: (a) a two-stage approach using posterior distributions from the model for the first two waves to inform priors for the third wave model; and (b) a one-stage approach modelling all three waves simultaneously. Both approaches result in the same key conclusions: (1) that the age-distribution of the case-severity risks is "u"-shaped, with children and older adults having the highest severity; (2) that the age-distribution of the infection attack rate changes over waves, school-age children being most affected in the first two waves and the attack rate in adults over 25 increasing from the second to third waves; and (3) that when averaged over all age groups, case-severity appears to increase over the three waves. The extent to which the final conclusion is driven by the change in age-distribution of those infected over time is subject to discussion.