Global burden of respiratory infections associated with seasonal influenza in children under 5 years in 2018: a systematic review and modelling study

Lancet Glob Health. 2020 Apr;8(4):e497-e510. doi: 10.1016/S2214-109X(19)30545-5. Epub 2020 Feb 20.


Background: Seasonal influenza virus is a common cause of acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI) in young children. In 2008, we estimated that 20 million influenza-virus-associated ALRI and 1 million influenza-virus-associated severe ALRI occurred in children under 5 years globally. Despite this substantial burden, only a few low-income and middle-income countries have adopted routine influenza vaccination policies for children and, where present, these have achieved only low or unknown levels of vaccine uptake. Moreover, the influenza burden might have changed due to the emergence and circulation of influenza A/H1N1pdm09. We aimed to incorporate new data to update estimates of the global number of cases, hospital admissions, and mortality from influenza-virus-associated respiratory infections in children under 5 years in 2018.

Methods: We estimated the regional and global burden of influenza-associated respiratory infections in children under 5 years from a systematic review of 100 studies published between Jan 1, 1995, and Dec 31, 2018, and a further 57 high-quality unpublished studies. We adapted the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale to assess the risk of bias. We estimated incidence and hospitalisation rates of influenza-virus-associated respiratory infections by severity, case ascertainment, region, and age. We estimated in-hospital deaths from influenza virus ALRI by combining hospital admissions and in-hospital case-fatality ratios of influenza virus ALRI. We estimated the upper bound of influenza virus-associated ALRI deaths based on the number of in-hospital deaths, US paediatric influenza-associated death data, and population-based childhood all-cause pneumonia mortality data in six sites in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.

Findings: In 2018, among children under 5 years globally, there were an estimated 109·5 million influenza virus episodes (uncertainty range [UR] 63·1-190·6), 10·1 million influenza-virus-associated ALRI cases (6·8-15·1); 870 000 influenza-virus-associated ALRI hospital admissions (543 000-1 415 000), 15 300 in-hospital deaths (5800-43 800), and up to 34 800 (13 200-97 200) overall influenza-virus-associated ALRI deaths. Influenza virus accounted for 7% of ALRI cases, 5% of ALRI hospital admissions, and 4% of ALRI deaths in children under 5 years. About 23% of the hospital admissions and 36% of the in-hospital deaths were in infants under 6 months. About 82% of the in-hospital deaths occurred in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.

Interpretation: A large proportion of the influenza-associated burden occurs among young infants and in low-income and lower middle-income countries. Our findings provide new and important evidence for maternal and paediatric influenza immunisation, and should inform future immunisation policy particularly in low-income and middle-income countries.

Funding: WHO; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Global Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Influenza, Human / complications*
  • Linear Models
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology*
  • Seasons