The relationship between the global burden of influenza from 2017 to 2019 and COVID-19: Descriptive epidemiological assessment

Stefan David Baral, Katherine Blair Rucinski, Jean Olivier Twahirwa Rwema, Amrita Rao, Neia Prata Menezes, Daouda Diouf, Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Nancy Phaswana-Mafuya, Sharmistha Mishra

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: SARS-CoV-2 and influenza are lipid-enveloped viruses with differential morbidity and mortality but shared modes of transmission. Objective: With a descriptive epidemiological framing, we assessed whether recent historical patterns of regional influenza burden are reflected in the observed heterogeneity in COVID-19 cases across regions of the world. Methods: Weekly surveillance data reported by the World Health Organization from January 2017 to December 2019 for influenza and from January 1, 2020 through October 31, 2020, for COVID-19 were used to assess seasonal and temporal trends for influenza and COVID-19 cases across the seven World Bank regions. Results: In regions with more pronounced influenza seasonality, COVID-19 epidemics have largely followed trends similar to those seen for influenza from 2017 to 2019. COVID-19 epidemics in countries across Europe, Central Asia, and North America have been marked by a first peak during the spring, followed by significant reductions in COVID-19 cases in the summer months and a second wave in the fall. In Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 epidemics in several countries peaked in the summer, corresponding to months with the highest influenza activity in the region. Countries from regions with less pronounced influenza activity, including South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, showed more heterogeneity in COVID-19 epidemics seen to date. However, similarities in COVID-19 and influenza trends were evident within select countries irrespective of region. Conclusions: Ecological consistency in COVID-19 trends seen to date with influenza trends suggests the potential for shared individual, structural, and environmental determinants of transmission. Using a descriptive epidemiological framework to assess shared regional trends for rapidly emerging respiratory pathogens with better studied respiratory infections may provide further insights into the differential impacts of nonpharmacologic interventions and intersections with environmental conditions. Ultimately, forecasting trends and informing interventions for novel respiratory pathogens like COVID-19 should leverage epidemiologic patterns in the relative burden of past respiratory pathogens as prior information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere24696
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Assessment
  • Burden
  • COVID-19
  • Descriptive epidemiology
  • Epidemiology
  • Flu
  • Global health
  • Influenza
  • Pattern
  • Public health
  • Relationship
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Transmission
  • Virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine(all)


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