The impact of influenza pandemics might be overestimated; the published studies of years of life lost (YLL) have typically ignored the presence of underlying chronic conditions or health risk behaviors in most deaths. We used data on deaths involving laboratory-confirmed 2009 influenza A(H1N1) virus infection that occurred between April 2009 and May 2010 in Hong Kong, China, to adjust for these underlying risk factors. Life expectancy was corrected with hazard-based modifications to the life tables. The excess hazards posed by underlying risk factors were added to the "baseline" age-specific hazards in the local life tables to reflect the life expectancy associated with each underlying risk factor. Of 72 deceased persons with laboratory-confirmed 2009 influenza A(H1N1) virus infection, 56% had underlying risk factors. We estimated that the 2009 pandemic was associated with 1,540 (95% confidence interval: 1,350, 1,630) YLL after adjustment for age and underlying risk factors. This figure is approximately 25% lower than the YLL estimate of 2,080 derived after adjustment for age but not for risk factors. Our analysis demonstrates the potential scale of bias in YLL estimation if underlying risk factors are ignored. The estimation of YLL with correction for underlying risk factors in addition to age could also provide a framework for similar calculations elsewhere.
Keywords: influenza; pandemics; underlying risk factors; years of life lost.