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Anomalous influenza seasonality in the United States and the emergence of novel influenza B viruses.

Abstract

The 2019/2020 influenza season in the United States began earlier than any season since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, with an increase in influenza-like illnesses observed as early as August. Also noteworthy was the numerical domination of influenza B cases early in this influenza season, in contrast to their typically later peak in the past. Here, we dissect the 2019/2020 influenza season not only with regard to its unusually early activity, but also with regard to the relative dynamics of type A and type B cases. We propose that the recent expansion of a novel influenza B/Victoria clade may be associated with this shift in the composition and kinetics of the influenza season in the United States. We use epidemiological transmission models to explore whether changes in the effective reproduction number or short-term cross-immunity between these viruses can explain the dynamics of influenza A and B seasonality. We find support for an increase in the effective reproduction number of influenza B, rather than support for cross-type immunity-driven dynamics. Our findings have clear implications for optimal vaccination strategies.

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