Although spatio-temporal patterns of influenza spread often suggest that environmental factors play a role, their effect on the geographical variation in the timing of annual epidemics has not been assessed. We examined the effect of solar radiation, dew point, temperature and geographical position on the city-specific timing of epidemics in the USA. Using paediatric in-patient data from hospitals in 35 cities for each influenza season in the study period 2000–2005, we determined ‘epidemic timing’ by identifying the week of peak influenza activity. For each city we calculated averages of daily climate measurements for 1 October to 31 December. Bayesian hierarchical models were used to assess the strength of association between each variable and epidemic timing. Of the climate variables only solar radiation was significantly related to epidemic timing (95% CI −0·027 to −0·0032). Future studies may elucidate biological mechanisms intrinsically linked to solar radiation that contribute to epidemic timing in temperate regions.
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