Background: Since the identification in early 2013 of severe disease caused by influenza A(H7N9) virus infection, there have been few attempts to characterize the full severity profile of human infections. Our objective was to estimate the number and severity of H7N9 infections in Guangzhou, using a serological study.
Methods: We collected residual sera from patients of all ages admitted to a hospital in the city of Guangzhou in southern China in 2013 and 2014. We screened the sera using a haemagglutination inhibition assay against a pseudovirus containing the H7 and N9 of A/Anhui/1/2013(H7N9), and samples with a screening titer ≥10 were further tested by standard hemagglutination-inhibition and virus neutralization assays for influenza A(H7N9). We used a statistical model to interpret the information on antibody titers in the residual sera, assuming that the residual sera provided a representative picture of A(H7N9) infections in the general population, accounting for potential cross-reactions.
Results: We collected a total of 5360 residual sera from December 2013 to April 2014 and from October 2014 to December 2014, and found two specimens that tested positive for H7N9 antibody at haemagglutination inhibition titer ≥40 and a neutralization titer ≥40. Based on this, we estimated that 64,000 (95 % credibility interval: 7300, 190,000) human infections with influenza A(H7N9) virus occurred in Guangzhou in early 2014, with an infection-fatality risk of 3.6 deaths (95 % credibility interval: 0.47, 15) per 10,000 infections.
Conclusions: Our study suggested that the number of influenza A(H7N9) virus infections in Guangzhou substantially exceeded the number of laboratory-confirmed cases there, albeit with considerable imprecision. Our study was limited by the small number of positive specimens identified, and larger serologic studies would be valuable. Our analytic framework would be useful if larger serologic studies are done.
Keywords: Avian influenza A(H7N9); Public health; Serology; Severity.