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The 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus subtype (H1N1) pandemic had a large impact in the United States of America (USA), causing an estimated 192,000 to 398,000 hospitalizations and 8,720 to 18,050 deaths between April 2009 and mid- March 2010. Recent research on the 2009 H1N1 pandemic has largely focused on individual, non-spatial demographic characterizations (e.g. age and race/ethnicity) associated with H1N1 hospitalizations. Broader ecological factors such as transportation use, land use and other socioeconomic factors are important aspects of influenza studies that have not been empirically examined. This research explores and identifies ecological factors associated with 2009 H1N1 pandemic hospitalization rates. We conducted a spatial regression analysis of county level hospitalization rates from 3 April to 15 September, 2009 obtained via the California Department of Public Health. Hospitalization rates were found to be spatially dependent. Public transportation usage rates and agricultural land use proportions were significant environmental factors positively related to hospitalization rates. Consistent with public health official’s assumptions and existing evidence, county percentages of persons less than 18 years of age were positively associated with hospitalization. These findings help to clarify the limited consensus and dubious evidence on the role of broader ecological factors associated with pandemic influenza. A better understanding of the ecological risk factors associated with hospitalizations should also benefit public health officials with respect to their work aiming at improving emergency supply allocation and non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies in the context of an influenza pandemic.
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