Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Public Health and BioMed Central.

This article is part of the supplement: Mathematical Modelling of Influenza

Open Access Research

Emergence and dynamics of influenza super-strains

Brian J Coburn1*, Chris Cosner2 and Shigui Ruan2

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Biomedical Modeling, Semel Institute of Neuroscience & Human Behavior, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, 10940 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 1450, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA

2 Department of Mathematics, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124-4250, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2011, 11(Suppl 1):S6  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-S1-S6

Published: 25 February 2011

Abstract

Background

Influenza super-strains can emerge through recombination of strains from birds, pigs, and humans. However, once a new recombinant strain emerges, it is not clear whether the strain is capable of sustaining an outbreak. In certain cases, such strains have caused major influenza pandemics.

Methods

Here we develop a multi-host (i.e., birds, pigs, and humans) and multi-strain model of influenza to analyze the outcome of emergent strains. In the model, pigs act as “mixing vessels” for avian and human strains and can produce super-strains from genetic recombination.

Results

We find that epidemiological outcomes are predicted by three factors: (i) contact between pigs and humans, (ii) transmissibility of the super-strain in humans, and (iii) transmissibility from pigs to humans. Specifically, outbreaks will reoccur when the super-strain infections are less frequent between humans (e.g., R0=1.4) but frequent from pigs to humans, and a large-scale outbreak followed by successive dampening outbreaks will occur when super-strain infections are frequent between humans (e.g., R0=2.3). The average time between the initial outbreak and the first resurgence varies from 41 to 82 years. We determine the largest outbreak will occur when 2.3 <R0 < 3.8 and the highest cumulative infections occur when 0 <R0 < 3.0 and is dependent on the frequency of pig-to-human infections for lower R0 values (0 <R0 < 1.9).

Conclusions

Our results provide insights on the effect of species interactions on the dynamics of influenza super-strains. Counter intuitively, epidemics may occur in humans even if the transmissibility of a super-strain is low. Surprisingly, our modeling shows strains that have generated past epidemics (e.g., H1N1) could resurge decades after they have apparently disappeared.