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PLoS One. 2011 Jan 20;6(1):e15933. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015933.

Retrospective investigation of an influenza A/H1N1pdm outbreak in an Italian military ship cruising in the Mediterranean Sea, May-September 2009.

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  • 1Inspectorate of Health, ITA Navy, Rome, Italy.



Clinical surveillance may have underestimated the real extent of the spread of the new strain of influenza A/H1N1, which surfaced in April 2009 originating the first influenza pandemic of the 21(st) century. Here we report a serological investigation on an influenza A/H1N1pdm outbreak in an Italian military ship while cruising in the Mediterranean Sea (May 24-September 6, 2009).


The contemporary presence of HAI and CF antibodies was used to retrospectively estimate the extent of influenza A/H1N1pdm spread across the crew members (median age: 29 years).


During the cruise, 2 crew members fulfilled the surveillance case definition for influenza, but only one was laboratory confirmed by influenza A/H1N1pdm-specific RT-PCR; 52 reported acute respiratory illness (ARI) episodes, and 183 reported no ARI episodes. Overall, among the 211 crew member for whom a valid serological result was available, 39.3% tested seropositive for influenza A/H1N1pdm. The proportion of seropositives was significantly associated with more crowded living quarters and tended to be higher in those aged <40 and in those reporting ARI or suspected/confirmed influenza A/H1N1pdm compared to the asymptomatic individuals. No association was found with previous seasonal influenza vaccination.


These findings underline the risk for rapid spread of novel strains of influenza A in confined environment, such as military ships, where crowding, rigorous working environment, physiologic stress occur. The high proportion of asymptomatic infections in this ship-borne outbreak supports the concept that serological surveillance in such semi-closed communities is essential to appreciate the real extent of influenza A/H1N1pdm spread and can constitute, since the early stage of a pandemic, an useful model to predict the public health impact of pandemic influenza and to establish proportionate and effective countermeasures.

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