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Monitoring the mortality impact of COVID-19 in Europe: What can be learned from 2009 influenza H1N1p mortality studies?

Staadegaard, L., Taylor, R.J., Spreeuwenberg, P., Caini, S., Simonsen, L., Paget, J. Monitoring the mortality impact of COVID-19 in Europe: What can be learned from 2009 influenza H1N1p mortality studies? International Journal of Infectious Diseases: 2021, 102, 115-117
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Objectives
Understanding the proportion of pandemic deaths captured as "laboratory-confirmed" deaths is crucial. We assessed the ability of laboratory-confirmed deaths to capture mortality in the EU during the 2009 pandemic, and examined the likelihood that these findings are applicable to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Methods
We present unpublished results from the Global Pandemic Mortality (GLaMOR) project, in which country-specific mortality estimates were made for the 2009 influenza H1N1p pandemic. These estimates were compared to laboratory-confirmed deaths during the 2009 pandemic to estimate the ability of surveillance systems to capture pandemic mortality.

Results
For the 2009 influenza H1N1p pandemic, we estimated that the proportion of true pandemic deaths captured by laboratory-confirmed deaths was approximately 67%. Several differences (e.g. age groups affected) between the two pandemics make it unlikely that this capture rate will be equally high for SARS-CoV-2.

Conclusion
The surveillance of laboratory-confirmed deaths in the EU during the 2009 pandemic was more accurate than previously assumed. We hypothesize that this method is less reliable for SARS-CoV-2. Near-real-time excess all-cause mortality estimates, routinely compiled by EuroMOMO, probably form a better indicator of pandemic mortality. We urge more countries to join this project and that national level absolute mortality numbers are presented.