Background: The United States was the second country to have a major outbreak of novel influenza A/H1N1 in what has become a new pandemic. Appropriate public health responses to this pandemic depend in part on early estimates of key epidemiological parameters of the virus in defined populations.
Methods: We use a likelihood-based method to estimate the basic reproductive number (R(0)) and serial interval using individual level U.S. data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We adjust for missing dates of illness and changes in case ascertainment. Using prior estimates for the serial interval we also estimate the reproductive number only.
Results: Using the raw CDC data, we estimate the reproductive number to be between 2.2 and 2.3 and the mean of the serial interval (mu) between 2.5 and 2.6 days. After adjustment for increased case ascertainment our estimates change to 1.7 to 1.8 for R(0) and 2.2 to 2.3 days for mu. In a sensitivity analysis making use of previous estimates of the mean of the serial interval, both for this epidemic (mu = 1.91 days) and for seasonal influenza (mu = 3.6 days), we estimate the reproductive number at 1.5 to 3.1.
Conclusions: With adjustments for data imperfections we obtain useful estimates of key epidemiological parameters for the current influenza H1N1 outbreak in the United States. Estimates that adjust for suspected increases in reporting suggest that substantial reductions in the spread of this epidemic may be achievable with aggressive control measures, while sensitivity analyses suggest the possibility that even such measures would have limited effect in reducing total attack rates.