Differences in patient age distribution between influenza A subtypes

PLoS One. 2009 Aug 31;4(8):e6832. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006832.


Since the spring of 1977, two subtypes of influenza A virus (H3N2 and H1N1) have been seasonally infecting the human population. In this work we study the distribution of patient ages within the populations that exhibit the symptomatic disease caused by each of the different subtypes of seasonal influenza viruses. When the publicly available extensive information is pooled across multiple geographical locations and seasons, striking differences emerge between these subtypes. We report that the symptomatic flu due to H1N1 is distributed mainly in a younger population relative to H3N2. (The median age of the H3N2 patients is 23 years while H1N1 patients are 9 years old.) These distinct characteristic spectra of age groups, possibly carried over from previous pandemics, are consistent with previous reports from various regional population studies and also findings on the evolutionary dynamics of each subtype. Moreover, they are relevant to age-related risk assessments, modeling of epidemiological networks for specific age groups, and age-specific vaccine design. Recently, a novel H1N1 virus has spread around the world. Preliminary reports suggest that this new strain causes symptomatic disease in the younger population in a similar fashion to the seasonal H1N1 strains.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Empirical Research
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype / isolation & purification*
  • Influenza A Virus, H3N2 Subtype / isolation & purification*
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult