Influenza seasonality and its environmental driving factors in mainland China and Hong Kong

Sheikh Taslim Ali, Benjamin J. Cowling, Jessica Y. Wong, Dongxuan Chen, Songwei Shan, Eric H.Y. Lau, Daihai He, Linwei Tian, Zhongjie Li, Peng Wu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Influenza epidemics occur during winter in temperate zones, but have less regular seasonality in the subtropics and tropics. Here we quantified the role of environmental drivers of influenza seasonality in temperate and subtropical China. Methods: We used weekly surveillance data on influenza virus activity in mainland China and Hong Kong from 2005 through 2016. We estimated the transmissibility via the instantaneous reproduction number (Rt), a real-time measure of transmissibility, and examined its relationship with different climactic drivers and allowed for the timing of school holidays and the decline in susceptibility in the population as an epidemic progressed. We developed a multivariable regression model for Rt to quantify the contribution of various potential environmental drivers of transmission. Findings: We found that absolute humidity is a potential driver of influenza seasonality and had a U-shaped association with transmissibility and hence can predict the pattern of influenza virus transmission across different climate zones. Absolute humidity was able to explain up to 15% of the variance in Rt, and was a stronger predictor of Rt across the latitudes. Other climatic drivers including mean daily temperature explained up to 13% of variance in Rt and limited to the locations where the indoor measures of these factors have better indicators of outdoor measures. The non-climatic driver, holiday-related school closures could explain up to 7% of variance in Rt. Interpretation: A U-shaped association of absolute humidity with influenza transmissibility was able to predict seasonal patterns of influenza virus epidemics in temperate and subtropical locations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number151724
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2022


  • Humidity
  • Influenza virus
  • Prediction
  • Seasonality
  • Transmissibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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