U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The drivers of influenza seasonality remain heavily debated, especially in tropical/subtropical regions where influenza activity can peak in winter, during the rainy season, or remain constant throughout the year. We compared the epidemiological and evolutionary patterns of seasonal influenza epidemics in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, two adjacent cities in subtropical southern China. This comparison represents a unique natural experiment, as connectivity between these two cities has increased over the past decade. We found that, whilst summer influenza epidemics in Shenzhen used to peak 1-3 months later than those in Hong Kong, the difference decreased after 2005 (P<0.0001). Phylogenetic analysis revealed that influenza isolates from Shenzhen have become genetically closer to those circulating in Hong Kong over time (P = 0.045). Furthermore, although Shenzhen isolates used to be more distant from the global putative source of influenza viruses than isolates from Hong Kong (P<0.001), this difference has narrowed (P = 0.02). Overall, our study reveals that influenza activities show remarkably distinct epidemiological and evolutionary patterns in adjacent subtropical cities and suggests that human mobility patterns can play a major role in influenza dynamics in the subtropics.