Background: In Australia, the 2009 epidemic of influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 resulted in increased admissions to intensive care. The annual contribution of influenza to use of intensive care is difficult to estimate, as many people with influenza present without a classic influenza syndrome and laboratory testing may not be performed. We used a population-based approach to estimate and compare the impact of recent epidemics of seasonal and pandemic influenza. Methods. For 2007 to 2010, time series describing health outcomes in various population groups were prepared from a database of all intensive care unit (ICU) admissions in the state of New South Wales, Australia. The Serfling approach, a time series method, was used to estimate seasonal patterns in health outcomes in the absence of influenza epidemics. The contribution of influenza was estimated by subtracting expected seasonal use from observed use during each epidemic period. Results: The estimated excess rate of influenza-associated respiratory ICU admissions per 100,000 inhabitants was more than three times higher in 2007 (2.6/100,000, 95% CI 2.0 to 3.1) than the pandemic year, 2009 (0.76/100,000, 95% CI 0.04 to 1.48). In 2009, the highest excess respiratory ICU admission rate was in 17 to 64 year olds (2.9/100,000, 95% CI 2.2 to 3.6), while in 2007, the highest excess rate was in those aged 65 years or older (9.5/100,000, 95% CI 6.2 to 12.8). In 2009, the excess rate was 17/100,000 (95% CI 14 to 20) in Aboriginal people and 14/100,000 (95% CI 13 to 16) in pregnant women. Conclusion: While influenza was diagnosed more frequently and peak use of intensive care was higher during the epidemic of pandemic influenza in 2009, overall excess admissions to intensive care for respiratory illness was much greater during the influenza season in 2007. Thus, the impact of seasonal influenza on intensive care use may have previously been under-recognised. In 2009, high ICU use among young to middle aged adults was offset by relatively low use among older adults, and Aboriginal people and pregnant women were substantially over-represented in ICUs. Greater emphasis on prevention of serious illness in Aboriginal people and pregnant women should be a priority in pandemic planning.
- Intensive care
- Respiratory illness