The potential impact of an influenza pandemic can be assessed by calculating a set of transmissibility parameters, the most important being the reproduction number (R), which is defined as the average number of secondary cases generated per typical infectious case. Biggerstaff, et al. (2014) conducted a systematic review to summarize published estimates of R for pandemic or seasonal influenza and for novel influenza viruses (e.g. H5N1). They retained and summarized papers that estimated R for pandemic or seasonal influenza or for human infections with novel influenza viruses.
The search yielded 567 papers. Ninety-one papers were retained, and an additional twenty papers were identified from the references of the retained papers. Twenty-four studies reported 51 R values for the 1918 pandemic. The median R value for 1918 was 1.80 (interquartile range [IQR]: 1.47-2.27). Six studies reported seven 1957 pandemic R values. The median R value for 1957 was 1.65 (IQR: 1.53-1.70). Four studies reported seven 1968 pandemic R values. The median R value for 1968 was 1.80 (IQR: 1.56-1.85). Fifty-seven studies reported 78 2009 pandemic R values. The median R value for 2009 was 1.46 (IQR: 1.30-1.70) and was similar across the two waves of illness: 1.46 for the first wave and 1.48 for the second wave. Twenty-four studies reported 47 seasonal epidemic R values. The median R value for seasonal influenza was 1.28 (IQR: 1.19-1.37). Four studies reported six novel influenza R values. Four out of six R values were <1.
The researchers conclude that these R values represent the difference between epidemics that are controllable and cause moderate illness and those causing a significant number of illnesses and requiring intensive mitigation strategies to control. Continued monitoring of R during seasonal and novel influenza outbreaks is needed to document its variation before the next pandemic. Their research was published in BMC Infectious Diseases.
Reference: Biggerstaff M, Cauchemez S, Reed C, Gambhir M and Finelli L. Estimates of the reproduction number for seasonal, pandemic, and zoonotic influenza: a systematic review of the literature. BMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:480 doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-480