Sci Rep. 2022 Sep 17;12(1):15625. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-19996-7.
Seasonal influenza epidemics circulate globally every year with varying levels of severity. One of the major drivers of this seasonal variation is thought to be the antigenic drift of influenza viruses, resulting from the accumulation of mutations in viral surface proteins. In this study, we aimed to investigate the association between the genetic drift of seasonal influenza viruses (A/H1N1, A/H3N2 and B) and the epidemiological severity of seasonal epidemics within a Canadian context. We obtained hemagglutinin protein sequences collected in Canada between the 2006/2007 and 2019/2020 flu seasons from GISAID and calculated Hamming distances in a sequence-based approach to estimating inter-seasonal antigenic differences. We also gathered epidemiological data on cases, hospitalizations and deaths from national surveillance systems and other official sources, as well as vaccine effectiveness estimates to address potential effect modification. These aggregate measures of disease severity were integrated into a single seasonal severity index. We performed linear regressions of our severity index with respect to the inter-seasonal antigenic distances, controlling for vaccine effectiveness. We did not find any evidence of a statistical relationship between antigenic distance and seasonal influenza severity in Canada. Future studies may need to account for additional factors, such as co-circulation of other respiratory pathogens, population imprinting, cohort effects and environmental parameters, which may drive seasonal influenza severity.