The role of influenza in the epidemiology of pneumonia

Sourya Shrestha, Betsy Foxman, Joshua Berus, Willem G. van Panhuis, Claudia Steiner, Cécile Viboud, Pejman Rohani

NATURE Scientific Reports

October 21, 2015


Interactions arising from sequential viral and bacterial infections play important roles in the epidemiological outcome of many respiratory pathogens. Influenza virus has been implicated in the pathogenesis of several respiratory bacterial pathogens commonly associated with pneumonia. Though clinical evidence supporting this interaction is unambiguous, its population-level effects—magnitude, epidemiological impact and variation during pandemic and seasonal outbreaks—remain unclear. To address these unknowns, we used longitudinal influenza and pneumonia incidence data, at different spatial resolutions and across different epidemiological periods, to infer the nature, timing and the intensity of influenza-pneumonia interaction. We used a mechanistic transmission model within a likelihood-based inference framework to carry out formal hypothesis testing. Irrespective of the source of data examined, we found that influenza infection increases the risk of pneumonia by ~100-fold. We found no support for enhanced transmission or severity impact of the interaction. For model-validation, we challenged our fitted model to make out-of-sample pneumonia predictions during pandemic and non-pandemic periods. The consistency in our inference tests carried out on several distinct datasets, and the predictive skill of our model increase confidence in our overall conclusion that influenza infection substantially enhances the risk of pneumonia, though only for a short period.