by Wan Yang, Eric H. Y. Lau, Benjamin J. Cowling
Influenza epidemics cause substantial morbidity and mortality every year worldwide. Currently, two influenza A subtypes, A(H1N1) and A(H3N2), and type B viruses co-circulate in humans and infection with one type/subtype could provide cross-protection against the others. However, it remains unclear how such ecologic competition via cross-immunity and antigenic mutations that allow immune escape impact influenza epidemic dynamics at the population level. Here we develop a comprehensive model-inference system and apply it to study the evolutionary and epidemiological dynamics of the three influenza types/subtypes in Hong Kong, a city of global public health significance for influenza epidemic and pandemic control. Utilizing long-term influenza surveillance data since 1998, we are able to estimate the strength of cross-immunity between each virus-pairs, the timing and frequency of punctuated changes in population immunity in response to antigenic mutations in influenza viruses, and key epidemiological parameters over the last 20 years including the 2009 pandemic. We find evidence of cross-immunity in all types/subtypes, with strongest cross-immunity from A(H1N1) against A(H3N2). Our results also suggest that A(H3N2) may undergo antigenic mutations in both summers and winters and thus monitoring the virus in both seasons may be important for vaccine development. Overall, our study reveals intricate epidemiological interactions and underscores the importance of simultaneous monitoring of population immunity, incidence rates, and viral genetic and antigenic changes.