Background: Understanding the epidemiological dynamics of influenza virus is central to surveillance and vaccine strain selection. It has been suggested that tropical and subtropical regions represent the global source of influenza epidemics. However, our understanding of the epidemiological dynamics of influenza virus in these regions is limited by a relative lack of long-term data.
Methods: We analyzed epidemiological and virological data on influenza recorded over a period of 15 years from the metropolitan city of Shenzhen in subtropical southern China. We used wavelet analysis to determine the periodicity of influenza epidemics and molecular phylogeographic analysis to investigate the role of Shenzhen and southern China in the global evolution of influenza virus.
Results: We show that southern China is unlikely to represent an epicenter of global influenza activity, because activity in Shenzhen is characterized by significant annual cycles, multiple viral introductions every year, limited persistence across epidemic seasons, and viruses that generally are not positioned on the trunk of the global influenza virus phylogeny.
Conclusions: We propose that novel influenza viruses emerge and evolve in multiple geographic localities and that the global evolution of influenza virus is complex and does not simply originate from a southern Chinese epicenter.