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Global Role and Burden of Influenza in Pediatric Respiratory Hospitalizations, 1982–2012: A Systematic Analysis
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  • Alternative Title:
    PLoS Med
  • Description:

    The global burden of pediatric severe respiratory illness is substantial, and influenza viruses contribute to this burden. Systematic surveillance and testing for influenza among hospitalized children has expanded globally over the past decade. However, only a fraction of the data has been used to estimate influenza burden. In this analysis, we use surveillance data to provide an estimate of influenza-associated hospitalizations among children worldwide.

    Methods and Findings

    We aggregated data from a systematic review (n = 108) and surveillance platforms (n = 37) to calculate a pooled estimate of the proportion of samples collected from children hospitalized with respiratory illnesses and positive for influenza by age group (<6 mo, <1 y, <2 y, <5 y, 5–17 y, and <18 y). We applied this proportion to global estimates of acute lower respiratory infection hospitalizations among children aged <1 y and <5 y, to obtain the number and per capita rate of influenza-associated hospitalizations by geographic region and socio-economic status.


    Influenza is an important contributor to respiratory hospitalizations among young children worldwide. Increasing influenza vaccination coverage among young children and pregnant women could reduce this burden and protect infants <6 mo.


    Acute lower respiratory infections—bacterial and viral infections of the lungs and airways (the tubes that take oxygen-rich air to the lungs)—are major causes of illness and death in children worldwide. Pneumonia (infection of the lungs) alone is responsible for 15% of deaths among children under five years old and kills nearly one million young children every year. Globally, infections with respiratory syncytial virus and with Streptococcus pneumoniae are associated with about 25% and 18.3%, respectively, of all episodes of severe respiratory infection in young children. Another infectious organism that contributes to the global burden of respiratory disease among children is the influenza virus. Every year, millions of people become infected with this virus, which infects the airways and causes symptoms that include a high temperature, tiredness and weakness, general aches and pains, and a dry chesty cough. Most infected individuals recover quickly, but seasonal influenza outbreaks (epidemics) nevertheless kill about half a million people annually, with the highest burden of severe disease being experienced by elderly people and by children under five years old.

    Why Was This Study Done?

    Annual immunization (vaccination) can reduce an individual’s risk of catching influenza, but before a country implements this preventative measure, policymakers need reliable estimates of the burden of influenza in their country. Although such estimates have been calculated for resource-rich countries with temperate climates, where influenza largely occurs in the winter, few estimates of influenza burden are available for resource-limited countries, which has hampered informed consideration of vaccination for influenza prevention in many settings. Recently, however, there has been a global expansion of systematic surveillance and testing for influenza virus among patients admitted to hospital for severe respiratory infection. Here, the researchers use this expanded surveillance data to provide an estimate of influenza-associated hospitalizations among children worldwide between 1982 and 2012. Specifically, they undertake a systematic review to identify published research articles on influenza-associated respiratory disease in hospitalized children, and, by aggregating the data from these articles with data collected by hospital-based influenza surveillance, they calculate a pooled estimate of the proportion of children hospitalized with respiratory disease who are positive for influenza.

    What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

    Using predefined search criteria, the researchers identified 108 published research articles that provided information on influenza-associated respiratory illness among hospitalized children. In addition, the Global Respiratory Hospitalizations–Influenza Proportion Positive (GRIPP) working group provided 37 hospital-based influenza surveillance datasets. By aggregating the data from these sources using a statistical approach called meta-analysis, the researchers calculated that, overall, influenza was associated with 9.5% of hospitalizations for severe respiratory infection among children under 18 years old worldwide, ranging from 4.8% among children under six months old to 16.4% among children aged 5–17 years. The researchers also calculated that, on average over the study period, influenza resulted in about 374,000 hospitalizations annually among children under one year old (including 228,000 hospitalizations among children less than six months old) and nearly one million hospitalizations annually among children under five years old. Finally, the researchers calculated that influenza-associated hospitalization rates among children under five years old over the study period were more than three times higher in resource-limited countries than in industrialized countries (150 and 48 hospitalizations, respectively, per 100,000 children per year).

    What Do These Findings Mean?

    Differences in hospitalization practices, in applications of case definitions, and in influenza testing protocols between settings may affect the accuracy of these findings. Specifically, the approach taken by the researchers may mean that their estimate of the total burden of severe respiratory disease due to influenza is an underestimate of the true situation. Even so, these findings suggest that influenza is an important contributor to hospitalizations for severe respiratory illness among children worldwide. Increasing influenza vaccination coverage among young children and pregnant women could, therefore, reduce the contribution that influenza makes to hospitalizations for respiratory infections among children. Importantly, the estimates of the burden of influenza provided by these findings can now be used by countries considering influenza vaccination programs for children and/or pregnant women to help them investigate the possible health and cost implications of such programs and should also stimulate further research into the development of effective influenza vaccines for young children.

    Additional Information

    This list of resources contains links that can be accessed when viewing the PDF on a device or via the online version of the article at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001977.

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