When diseases begin to spread worldwide, they can be classified as a "pandemic". In 2009, a novel H1N1 strain of influenza virus rapidly spread around the world, infecting millions of people. Unfortunately, there was a lack of real-time data collection occurring during this influenza pandemic, because there was no system to monitor the virus spreading on such a large scale.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reached out to us in 2009 to use our PICFLU network to track the H1N1 pandemic. We used our resources and sites across the country to create a surveillance system that could report cases of Influenza in a faster and more organized way.
This study found that during the 2009 epidemic, children who were immunocompromised and suffered from neurologic conditions were at a high risk of dying from the flu. We also discovered that children who had the flu and were also infected with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus were at much higher risk of dying.
We created a protocol to measure the spread of Influenza and other respiratory pathogens for use in the future. In 2019 when the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus emerged and caused often fatal Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19, we were able to use our readiness protocol to capture data on over 4,000 children across the U.S. hospitalized for complications of SARS-CoV-2 (please see our Overcoming COVID-19 website for more information). Influenza pandemics are inevitable, and the PICFLU Network is prepared for the next pandemic through our work as a clinical core in the NIH NIAID funded Centers of Excellence of Influenza Research and Response (CEIRR) Network Center Influenza Disease and Emergence Research (CIDER) consortium.