Climatic factors and long-term trends of influenza-like illness rates in The Netherlands, 1970–2016

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Abstract

Background:

Climatic factors affect the survival and transmissibility of respiratory viruses causing influenza-like illness (ILI), and we hypothesized that changes in absolute humidity and temperature may affect long-term trends of ILI incidence rate in temperate countries. We tested this hypothesis using ILI and meteorological time series in the Netherlands for the period 1970–2016.

Methods:

We described the long-term trends of ILI incidence, absolute humidity and temperature; modelled the association between climatic factors and ILI activity using negative binomial regression models; and assessed the strength of the association between the seasonal average absolute humidity (or temperature) and ILI incidence rate using the Spearman's rank correlation coefficient.

Results:

The ILI incidence rate declined from 1970 and reached a minimum in the season 2002–03, but started to increase again from the season 2003–04 onwards. In the negative binominal regression models, the weekly ILI count was inversely associated (p < 0.001) with 0- and 1-week lagged absolute humidity and temperature. After three decades of rising absolute humidity and temperature (1970–2000), the early 2000s represented a trend-reversal point for the climatic time series. The seasonal average ILI incidence rate and absolute humidity (or temperature) were strongly (inversely) correlated.

Conclusions:

Our findings suggest that climate change may have played a role in the long-term trends of ILI incidence rates in the Netherlands, as we were able to show that lower humidity and temperature in a given week were associated with higher ILI incidence in the next week, there was a clear time point reversal in climatic parameters and ILI rates in the 2000s, and the average annual ILI incidence was inversely related to average annual temperatures and humidity.

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