Absolute humidity and pandemic versus epidemic influenza

Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Jan 15;173(2):127-35. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwq347. Epub 2010 Nov 16.


Experimental and epidemiologic evidence indicates that variations of absolute humidity account for the onset and seasonal cycle of epidemic influenza in temperate regions. A role for absolute humidity in the transmission of pandemic influenza, such as 2009 A/H1N1, has yet to be demonstrated and, indeed, outbreaks of pandemic influenza during more humid spring, summer, and autumn months might appear to constitute evidence against an effect of humidity. However, here the authors show that variations of the basic and effective reproductive numbers for influenza, caused by seasonal changes in absolute humidity, are consistent with the general timing of pandemic influenza outbreaks observed for 2009 A/H1N1 in temperate regions, as well as wintertime transmission of epidemic influenza. Indeed, absolute humidity conditions correctly identify the region of the United States vulnerable to a third, wintertime wave of pandemic influenza. These findings suggest that the timing of pandemic influenza outbreaks is controlled by a combination of absolute humidity conditions, levels of susceptibility, and changes in population-mixing and contact rates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Humans
  • Humidity*
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology*
  • Influenza, Human / transmission
  • Pandemics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Seasons*