Do intensive care data on respiratory infections reflect influenza epidemics?

PLoS One. 2013 Dec 31;8(12):e83854. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083854. eCollection 2013.


Objectives: Severe influenza can lead to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admission. We explored whether ICU data reflect influenza like illness (ILI) activity in the general population, and whether ICU respiratory infections can predict influenza epidemics.

Methods: We calculated the time lag and correlation between ILI incidence (from ILI sentinel surveillance, based on general practitioners (GP) consultations) and percentages of ICU admissions with a respiratory infection (from the Dutch National Intensive Care Registry) over the years 2003-2011. In addition, ICU data of the first three years was used to build three regression models to predict the start and end of influenza epidemics in the years thereafter, one to three weeks ahead. The predicted start and end of influenza epidemics were compared with observed start and end of such epidemics according to the incidence of ILI.

Results: Peaks in respiratory ICU admissions lasted longer than peaks in ILI incidence rates. Increases in ICU admissions occurred on average two days earlier compared to ILI. Predicting influenza epidemics one, two, or three weeks ahead yielded positive predictive values ranging from 0.52 to 0.78, and sensitivities from 0.34 to 0.51.

Conclusions: ICU data was associated with ILI activity, with increases in ICU data often occurring earlier and for a longer time period. However, in the Netherlands, predicting influenza epidemics in the general population using ICU data was imprecise, with low positive predictive values and sensitivities.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Influenza A virus / pathogenicity*
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology*
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Population Surveillance
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / virology

Grants and funding

The authors have no support or funding to report.