Disproportionate impact of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza on Indigenous people in the Top End of Australia’s Northern Territory

Shaun M Flint, Joshua S Davis, Jiunn-Yih Su, Erin P Oliver-Landry, Benjamin A Rogers, Aaron Goldstein, Jane H Thomas, Uma Parameswaran, Colin Bigham, Kevin Freeman, Paul Goldrick and Steven Y C Tong
Med J Aust 2010; 192 (10): 617-622.


Objective: To describe the impact of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza (nH1N1) on Indigenous people in the Top End of the Northern Territory at community, hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) levels.

Design, setting and participants: We analysed influenza notifications for the Top End from 1 June to 31 August 2009, as well as data on patients admitted through Top End emergency departments with an influenza-like illness. In addition, data on patients with nH1N1 who were admitted to Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH) and the RDH ICU were prospectively collected and analysed.

Main outcome measures: Age-adjusted notification rates for nH1N1 cases, Top End hospital admission rates for patients with nH1N1 and RDH ICU admission rates for patients with nH1N1, stratified by Indigenous status.

Results: There were 918 nH1N1 notifications during the study period. The age-adjusted hospital admission rate for nH1N1 was 82 per 100 000 (95% CI, 68–95) estimated resident population (ERP) overall, with a markedly higher rate in the Indigenous population compared with the non-Indigenous population (269 per 100 000 versus 29 per 100 000 ERP; adjusted incidence rate ratio, 12 [95% CI, 7.8–18]). Independent predictors of ICU admission compared with hospitalisation were hypoxia (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 4.5; CI, 1.5–13.1) and chest x-ray infiltrates (aOR, 4.3; CI, 1.5–12.6) on hospital admission.

Conclusions: Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Australians in the Top End, with hospitalisation rates higher than those reported elsewhere in Australia and overseas. These findings have implications for planning hospital and ICU capacity during an influenza pandemic in regions with large Indigenous populations. They also confirm the need to improve health and living circumstances and to prioritise vaccination in this population.

  • Shaun M Flint1
  • Joshua S Davis2,3,4
  • Jiunn-Yih Su1
  • Erin P Oliver-Landry5
  • Benjamin A Rogers2
  • Aaron Goldstein4
  • Jane H Thomas6
  • Uma Parameswaran2
  • Colin Bigham6
  • Kevin Freeman7
  • Paul Goldrick6
  • Steven Y C Tong3,4,2

  • 1 Northern Territory Centre for Disease Control, Darwin, NT.
  • 2 Department of Infectious Diseases, Royal Darwin Hospital, Darwin, NT.
  • 3 Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, NT.
  • 4 Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT.
  • 5 Northern Territory Clinical School, Royal Darwin Hospital, Darwin, NT.
  • 6 Department of Intensive Care, Royal Darwin Hospital, Darwin, NT.
  • 7 Microbiology Laboratory, Northern Territory Government Pathology Service, Darwin, NT.


We thank all the Microbiology Laboratory staff, the Infection Control team, and medical staff of the Royal Darwin Hospital, and Lesley Scott and the surveillance staff of the Northern Territory Centre for Disease Control, for their diligent and unstinting work during the period of this study. We also thank Ross Andrews, Naor Bar-Zeev and Thomas Snelling for critical review of the manuscript. Joshua Davis and Steven Tong received PhD scholarships for salary support from the NHMRC.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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