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PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e17835. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017835. Epub 2011 May 26.

Early estimation of the reproduction number in the presence of imported cases: pandemic influenza H1N1-2009 in New Zealand.

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Centre for Mathematical Biology, Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand.


We analyse data from the early epidemic of H1N1-2009 in New Zealand, and estimate the reproduction number R. We employ a renewal process which accounts for imported cases, illustrate some technical pitfalls, and propose a novel estimation method to address these pitfalls. Explicitly accounting for the infection-age distribution of imported cases and for the delay in transmission dynamics due to international travel, R was estimated to be (95% confidence interval: 107,1.47). Hence we show that a previous study, which did not account for these factors, overestimated R. Our approach also permitted us to examine the infection-age at which secondary transmission occurs as a function of calendar time, demonstrating the downward bias during the beginning of the epidemic. These technical issues may compromise the usefulness of a well-known estimator of R--the inverse of the moment-generating function of the generation time given the intrinsic growth rate. Explicit modelling of the infection-age distribution among imported cases and the examination of the time dependency of the generation time play key roles in avoiding a biased estimate of R, especially when one only has data covering a short time interval during the early growth phase of the epidemic.

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