The highest rates of infection were in children, with 47 per cent of those aged five to 19 showing signs of having caught the virus. Older people were affected less, with only 11 per cent of people aged 65 or older becoming infected.
The findings come from an international collaboration led by the World Health Organization and Imperial College London, which analysed data from 19 countries, including the UK, US, China and India, to assess the global impact of the 2009 influenza pandemic.
The results, published in the journal Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses, showed that 20-27 per cent of people studied were infected in the pandemic during the first year of circulation. The researchers believe the incidence of influenza is likely to have been similar in countries where data were not available, meaning that as many as a quarter of the world's population may have been infected.
The study collated results from more than two dozen research studies involving more than 90,000 blood samples collected before, during and after the pandemic. The samples were tested for antibodies produced by the body in response to the specific flu strain that caused the pandemic.
While this study did not set out to look at mortality, the authors also used previously published estimates of pandemic influenza mortality together with mortality estimates that are still in progress, to estimate the proportion of people infected who died from the pandemic virus. Based on an estimate of approximately 200,000 deaths, they suggest that the case fatality ratio was less than 0.02 per cent.
Multiple exposures to previously circulating influenza viruses may have given older people some protection against the strain that emerged in 2009. Blood samples from before the pandemic showed that 14 per cent of people aged 65 or over already had antibodies that reacted to the 2009 strain.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, from the Medical Research Council Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling at Imperial College London, one of the lead authors of the study, said: "This study is the result of a combined effort by more than 27 research groups worldwide, who all shared their data and experience with us to help improve our understanding of the impact the pandemic had globally."
Dr Anthony Mounts of the World Health Organization, the senior author, said: "Knowing the proportion of the population infected in different age groups and the proportion of those infected who died will help public health decision-makers plan for and respond to pandemics. This information will be used to quantify severity and develop mathematical models to predict how flu outbreaks spread and what effect different interventions may have."
The study was funded by the Medical Research Council.
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Notes to editors
1. Van Kerkhove et al. (2012) 'Estimating age-specific cumulative incidence for the 2009 influenza pandemic: a meta-analysis of A(H1N1)pdm09 serological studies from 19 countries.' Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses DOI: 10.1111/irv.12074.
2. The mortality estimates referred to above are:
Dawood FS, Iuliano AD, Reed C, Meltzer MI, Shay DK, Cheng P-Y, Bandaranayake D, Breiman RF, Brooks WA, Buchy P, Feikin DR, Fowler KB, Gordon A, Hien NT, Horby P, Huang QS, Katz MA, Krishnan A, Lal R, Montgomery JM, Mølbak K, Pebody R, Presanis AM, Razuri H, Steens A, Tinoco YO, Wallinga J, Yu H, Vong S, Bresee J, Widdowson M-A. Estimated global mortality associated with the first 12 months of 2009 pandemic influenza A H1N1 virus circulation: a modelling study. Lancet Infectious Diseases 2012; Published Online 26 June 2012, DOI: 10.1016/S1473-3099(12)70121-4
Simonsen L, Spreeuwenberg P, Roger L, D Fleming, Taylor R, Kroneman M, Kim WL, Van Kerkhove M, Mounts A, Paget J, and the GlaMOR Country Collaborating Teams. Report from the WHO Global Pandemic Mortality Assessment (GLaMOR) Study Presented at ISIRV Incidence, Impact and Severity Conference September 2012, Munich Germany.
WHO. Summary of WHO technical consultation: H1N1pdm mortality estimates, 25-26 October 2011. Available at: http://www.who.int/influenza/publications/surveillance_monitoring/H1N1pdmMortalityEstimates_WHOconsultation.pdf (accessed June 1, 2012). 2011.
3. About Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.
In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.
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