Seasonality of absolute humidity explains seasonality of influenza-like illness in Vietnam.
Thai PQ., Choisy M., Duong TN., Thiem VD., Yen NT., Hien NT., Weiss DJ., Boni MF., Horby P.
BACKGROUND: Experimental and ecological studies have shown the role of climatic factors in driving the epidemiology of influenza. In particular, low absolute humidity (AH) has been shown to increase influenza virus transmissibility and has been identified to explain the onset of epidemics in temperate regions. Here, we aim to study the potential climatic drivers of influenza-like illness (ILI) epidemiology in Vietnam, a tropical country characterized by a high diversity of climates. We specifically focus on quantifying and explaining the seasonality of ILI. METHODS: We used 18 years (1993-2010) of monthly ILI notifications aggregated by province (52) and monthly climatic variables (minimum, mean, maximum temperatures, absolute and relative humidities, rainfall and hours of sunshine) from 67 weather stations across Vietnam. Seasonalities were quantified from global wavelet spectra, using the value of the power at the period of 1 year as a measure of the intensity of seasonality. The 7 climatic time series were characterized by 534 summary statistics which were entered into a regression tree to identify factors associated with the seasonality of AH. Results were extrapolated to the global scale using simulated climatic times series from the NCEP/NCAR project. RESULTS: The intensity of ILI seasonality in Vietnam is best explained by the intensity of AH seasonality. We find that ILI seasonality is weak in provinces experiencing weak seasonal fluctuations in AH (annual power <17.6), whereas ILI seasonality is strongest in provinces with pronounced AH seasonality (power >17.6). In Vietnam, AH and ILI are positively correlated. CONCLUSIONS: Our results identify a role for AH in driving the epidemiology of ILI in a tropical setting. However, in contrast to temperate regions, high rather than low AH is associated with increased ILI activity. Fluctuation in AH may be the climate factor that underlies and unifies the seasonality of ILI in both temperate and tropical regions. Alternatively, the mechanism of action of AH on disease transmission may be different in cold-dry versus hot-humid settings.