OBJECTIVE: To compare different methods to estimate the disease burden of influenza, using influenza and respiratory syncytial virus-(RSV) associated primary care data as an example.
STUDY DESIGN AND SETTING: In a retrospective study in the Netherlands over 1997-2003, primary care attended respiratory episodes and national viral surveillance data were used to compare the rate-difference method to other, more complex methods.
RESULTS: The influenza-associated excess estimated by the different methods varied. The estimates provided by the rate-difference model lay well within this range. According to the rate-difference method, influenza-associated primary care consultations were present for all ages, including low-risk adults. The highest influenza-associated burden was demonstrated for children below the age of 5 years. The RSV-associated primary care burden was highest in the youngest age category and well above that associated with influenza. Significant RSV-associated excess was also recorded among adults, particularly in high-risk adults and the elderly.
CONCLUSION: The straightforward rate-difference model seemed satisfactory to estimate the influenza-associated burden. Significant influenza-associated excess was demonstrated among persons not yet recommended for influenza vaccination in The Netherlands. The RSV-associated burden was highest for the youngest children, but also significant for adults.