Influenza in the Tropics

Influenza in the Tropics

With pneumonia now the #1 infectious-disease threat to children worldwide—and respiratory diseases a greater threat to kids’ health than diarrheal diseases—Aubree Gordon knows her work on seasonal influenza in Nicaragua is urgent.

Twelve years ago, when she began her research, there was much debate among scientists as to whether influenza was a significant threat in tropical countries. Conventional wisdom held that flu “only transmits when it’s cold and dry,” recalls Gordon, an assistant professor of epidemiology at SPH.

No one had even tested for influenza in Nicaragua. Gordon launched the first comprehensive flu testing in the country and helped create both a dedicated influenza laboratory and a nationwide surveillance system.

Although at first she focused on the burden and seasonality of flu in Nicaragua, Gordon has since expanded her work. In four ongoing studies in collaboration with Nicaraguan colleagues, including the Ministry of Health, she is examining transmission patterns, repeat infections, and the development of immunity. She and her colleagues are also working to understand the percentage of pneumonia in Nicaragua that is associated with influenza.

Their work to date has contributed to the introduction of seasonal flu vaccines in Nicaragua and has helped strengthen the country’s ability to respond to outbreaks of influenza and other respiratory diseases. “From a scientific perspective,” Gordon says, “we’re not only broadening the understanding of influenza in tropical regions but also our understanding of susceptibility to influenza in general. Although some of our findings are specific to the tropics, others translate to temperate and developed settings as well.”