Background: In temperate and subtropical climates, respiratory diseases exhibit seasonal peaks in winter. In the tropics, with no winter, peak timings are irregular.
Methods: To obtain a detailed picture of influenza-like illness (ILI) patterns in the tropics, we established an mHealth study in community clinics in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). During 2009-2015, clinics reported daily case numbers via SMS, with a subset performing molecular diagnostics for influenza virus. This real-time epidemiology network absorbs 6000 ILI reports annually, one or two orders of magnitude more than typical surveillance systems. A real-time online ILI indicator was developed to inform clinicians of the daily ILI activity in HCMC.
Results: From August 2009 to December 2015, 63 clinics were enrolled and 36 920 SMS reports were received, covering approximately 1.7M outpatient visits. Approximately 10.6% of outpatients met the ILI case definition. ILI activity in HCMC exhibited strong nonannual dynamics with a dominant periodicity of 206 days. This was confirmed by time series decomposition, stepwise regression, and a forecasting exercise showing that median forecasting errors are 30%-40% lower when using a 206-day cycle. In ILI patients from whom nasopharyngeal swabs were taken, 31.2% were positive for influenza. There was no correlation between the ILI time series and the time series of influenza, influenza A, or influenza B (all P > 0.15).
Conclusion: This suggests, for the first time, that a nonannual cycle may be an essential driver of respiratory disease dynamics in the tropics. An immunological interference hypothesis is discussed as a potential underlying mechanism.
© 2018 The Authors. Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.