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On epidemic modeling in real time: An application to the 2009 Novel A (H1N1) influenza outbreak in Canada

Ying-Hen Hsieh1*, David N Fisman2 and Jianhong Wu3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Center for Infectious Disease Education and Research, China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan

2 Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, M5T 3M7, Canada

3 Centre for Disease Modeling, York University, Toronto, M3J 1P3, Canada

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BMC Research Notes 2010, 3:283  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-283

Published: 5 November 2010



Management of emerging infectious diseases such as the 2009 influenza pandemic A (H1N1) poses great challenges for real-time mathematical modeling of disease transmission due to limited information on disease natural history and epidemiology, stochastic variation in the course of epidemics, and changing case definitions and surveillance practices.


The Richards model and its variants are used to fit the cumulative epidemic curve for laboratory-confirmed pandemic H1N1 (pH1N1) infections in Canada, made available by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). The model is used to obtain estimates for turning points in the initial outbreak, the basic reproductive number (R0), and for expected final outbreak size in the absence of interventions. Confirmed case data were used to construct a best-fit 2-phase model with three turning points. R0 was estimated to be 1.30 (95% CI 1.12-1.47) for the first phase (April 1 to May 4) and 1.35 (95% CI 1.16-1.54) for the second phase (May 4 to June 19). Hospitalization data were also used to fit a 1-phase model with R0 = 1.35 (1.20-1.49) and a single turning point of June 11.


Application of the Richards model to Canadian pH1N1 data shows that detection of turning points is affected by the quality of data available at the time of data usage. Using a Richards model, robust estimates of R0 were obtained approximately one month after the initial outbreak in the case of 2009 A (H1N1) in Canada.