Systematic Assessment of Multiple Routine and Near Real-Time Indicators to Classify the Severity of Influenza Seasons and Pandemics in the United States, 2003-2004 Through 2015-2016
Assessments of influenza season severity can guide public health action. We used the moving epidemic method to develop intensity thresholds (ITs) for 3 US surveillance indicators from the 2003-2004 through 2014-2015 influenza seasons (excluding the 2009 pandemic). The indicators were: 1) outpatient visits for influenza-like illness; 2) influenza-related hospitalizations; and 3) influenza- and pneumonia-related deaths. ITs were developed for the population overall and separately for children, adults, and older adults, and they were set at the upper limit of the 50% (IT50), 90% (IT90), and 98% (IT98) 1-sided confidence intervals of the geometric mean of each season's 3 highest values. Severity was classified as low if ≥2 systems peaked below IT50, moderate if ≥2 peaked between IT50 and IT90, high if ≥2 peaked between IT90 and IT98, and very high if ≥2 peaked above IT98. We pilot-tested this method with the 2015-2016 season and the 2009 pandemic. Overall, 4 seasons were classified as low severity, 7 as moderate, 2 as high, and none as very high. Among the age groups, older adults had the most seasons (n = 3) classified as high, and children were the only group to have seasons (n = 2) classified as very high. We will apply this method to classify the severity of future seasons and inform pandemic response.