Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Three quarters of people with seasonal, pandemic flu have no symptoms

Date:
March 16, 2014
Source:
The Lancet
Summary:
Around 1 in 5 of the population were infected in both recent outbreaks of seasonal flu and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, but just 23% of these infections caused symptoms, and only 17% of people were ill enough to consult their doctor. These findings come from a major new community-based study comparing the burden and severity of seasonal and pandemic influenza in England over 5 years.

Sick woman at home in bed (stock photo). "Reported cases of influenza represent the tip of a large clinical and subclinical iceberg that is mainly invisible to national surveillance systems that only record cases seeking medical attention," explains the study's lead author.
Credit: Ocskay Bence / Fotolia

Around 1 in 5 of the population were infected in both recent outbreaks of seasonal flu and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, but just 23% of these infections caused symptoms, and only 17% of people were ill enough to consult their doctor.

These findings come from a major new community-based study comparing the burden and severity of seasonal and pandemic influenza in England over 5 years, published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal.

"Reported cases of influenza represent the tip of a large clinical and subclinical iceberg that is mainly invisible to national surveillance systems that only record cases seeking medical attention," explains lead author Dr Andrew Hayward from University College London, UK.

"Most people don't go to the doctor when they have flu. Even when they do consult they are often not recognized as having influenza. Surveillance based on patients who consult greatly underestimates the number of community cases, which in turn can lead to overestimates of the proportion of cases who end up in hospital or die. Information on the community burden is therefore critical to inform future control and prevention programs."

The Flu Watch study tracked five successive cohorts of households across England over six influenza seasons between 2006 and 2011. The researchers calculated nationally representative estimates of the incidence of influenza infection, the proportion of infections that were symptomatic, and the proportion of symptomatic infections that led to medical attention.

Participants provided blood samples before and after each season for influenza serology, and all participating households were contacted weekly to identify any cases of cough, cold, sore throat or 'flu-like illness." Any person reporting such symptoms was asked to submit a nasal swab on day 2 of illness to test for a variety of respiratory viruses using Real-Time, Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) technology.

The results show that on average 18% of the unvaccinated community were infected with influenza each winter season -- 19% during prepandemic seasons and 18% during the 2009 pandemic. But most (77%) of these infections showed no symptoms, and only around 17% of people with PCR-confirmed influenza visited their doctor. Compared with some seasonal flu strains, the 2009 pandemic strain caused substantially milder symptoms.

The study indicates that primary-care surveillance greatly underestimates the extent of infection and illness in the community. The rate of influenza across all winter seasons was on average 22 times higher than rates of disease recorded by the Royal College of General Practitioners Sentinel Influenza-Like Illness Surveillance Scheme.

According to Dr Hayward, "Despite its mild nature, the 2009 pandemic caused enormous international concern, expense, and disruption. We need to prepare for how to respond to both mild and severe pandemics. To do this we need more refined assessments of severity, including community studies to guide control measures early in the course of a pandemic and inform a proportionate response."

Writing in a linked Comment, Dr Peter William Horby from the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam says, "In view of the undoubtedly high rates of subclinical influenza infection, an important unanswered question is the extent to which mild and asymptomatic influenza infections contribute to transmission…A large number of well individuals mixing widely in the community might, even if only mildly infectious, make a substantial contribution to onward transmission."

He concludes, "Surveillance of medically attended illnesses provides a partial and biased picture, and is vulnerable to changes in consulting, testing, or reporting practices. As such, it is clear that reliable estimates of the infection and clinical attack rates during the early stages of an influenza epidemic requires the collection of standardized data across the whole range of disease severity, from the community, primary care, and secondary care."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Lancet. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Andrew Hayward MD, et al. Comparative community burden and severity of seasonal and pandemic influenza: results of the Flu Watch cohort study. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, March 2014 DOI: 10.1016/S2213-2600(14)70034-7

Cite This Page:

The Lancet. "Three quarters of people with seasonal, pandemic flu have no symptoms." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140316203218.htm>.
The Lancet. (2014, March 16). Three quarters of people with seasonal, pandemic flu have no symptoms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140316203218.htm
The Lancet. "Three quarters of people with seasonal, pandemic flu have no symptoms." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140316203218.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Is your child ready? Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) Now that the U.S. is restricting travel from West Africa, some are dropping questions about a travel ban and instead asking about visa bans. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) Stepping up their vigilance against Ebola, federal authorities said Wednesday that everyone traveling into the US from Ebola-stricken nations will be monitored for symptoms for 21 days. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctors Help Paralysed Man Walk Again, Patient in Disbelief

Doctors Help Paralysed Man Walk Again, Patient in Disbelief

AFP (Oct. 22, 2014) Polish doctors describe how they helped a paralysed man walk again, with the patient in disbelief at the return of sensation to his legs. Duration: 1:04 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins