Incidence data by age of new episodes of influenza-like illness reported by sentinel general practice networks in England and Wales and in The Netherlands over a 10-year period were examined to provide estimates of the consulting population during influenza epidemic periods. Baseline levels of recording in each age group were calculated from weeks in which influenza viruses were not circulating and the excess over baseline calculated to provide the population estimates during influenza epidemics.
Influenza A/H3N2 epidemics were associated with higher population estimates for consultations than influenza B, especially in the age groups 0–4 and 65 years and over. In the intervening age groups, population estimates were more consistent regardless of the virus type. Both networks reported simultaneous peaking of incidence rates in all of the age groups. There were substantial increases in the number of persons reporting other respiratory illnesses during influenza epidemics.
Population estimates of the consulting population provide the only secure basis for which health services resource utilization during influenza epidemics can be estimated.
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