BACKGROUND: Populations in Asia are not only at risk of harm to their health through environmental degradation as a result of worsening pollution problems but also constantly threatened by recurring and emerging influenza epidemics and. pandemics. Situated in the area with the world's fastest growing economy and close to hypothetical epicenters of influenza transmission, Hong Kong offers a special opportunity for testing environmental management and public health surveillance in the region. In the Public Health and Air Pollution in Asia (PAPA*) project, the Hong Kong research team assessed the health effects of air pollution and influenza as well as the interaction between them. The team also assessed disparities in the health effects of air pollution between relatively deprived and more affluent areas in Hong Kong. The aim was to provide answers to outstanding research questions relating to the short-term effects of air pollution on mortality and hospital admissions; the health effects of influenza with a view to validating different measures of influenza activity according to virologic data; the confounding effects of influenza on estimates of the health effects of air pollution; the modifying effects of influenza on the health effects of air pollution; and the modifying effects of neighborhood social deprivation on the health effects of air pollution. DATA: Data on mortality and hospital admissions for all natural causes, as well as the subcategories of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and respiratory diseases (RD), were derived from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department and the Hospital Authority. Daily concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter < or = 10 pm (PM10); and ozone (O3) were derived from eight monitoring stations with hourly data that were at least 75% complete during the study period. Three measures of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) activity were derived from positive isolates of specimens in the virology laboratory of Queen Mary Hospital (QMH), the main clinical teaching center at The University of Hong Kong and part of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority network of teaching hospitals: influenza intensity (defined as the weekly proportion of positive isolates of influenza in the total number of specimens received for diagnostic tests); the presence of influenza epidemic (defined as a period when the weekly frequency of these positive isolates is > or = 4% of the annual total number of positive isolates [i.e., twice the expected mean value] in two or more consecutive weeks); and influenza predominance (defined as a period of influenza epidemic when the weekly frequency of RSV was less than 2% for two or more consecutive weeks).