Could climate change make flu seasons worse?

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By Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, February 20, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Climate change, and the sudden climate changes it brings, could fuel future flu epidemics, researchers warn in a new report.

They used historical data to assess how significant climatic changes in the fall months could affect the flu season in highly populated areas of the United States, mainland China, Italy and France.

Specifically, the researchers examined the weather patterns and average temperatures from January 1, 1997 to February 28, 2018, for more than 7,700 days. They also analyzed influenza data from all four countries during the same period of time.

Previous research suggested that low temperatures and low humidity in the winter create favorable conditions for influenza virus transmission. However, the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the warmest in history, and also one of the deadliest.

During the 2017-2018 flu season, extreme changes in the autumnal climate "started" the flu, which resulted in cases of flu at the beginning of the season that shot up in heavily populated areas, according to the study authors.

"Historical influenza data from different parts of the world showed that the spread of the flu epidemic has been more closely related to rapid climatic variability, which implies that the human immune system fallen in winter caused by rapid climate change it makes a person more susceptible to the flu virus, "said lead researcher Zhaohua Wu, an associate professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Florida State University.

These findings suggest that rapid climate changes associated with climate change will increase the risk of influenza epidemics in densely populated areas. For example, Europe could have a 50% increase in flu-related deaths, according to the researchers.

They said learning more about the important climate changes associated with climate change may be important in predicting future threats of the flu season.

"The rapid climatic variability of autumn and its characteristic change in warm weather can serve not only as a skillful predictor of the spread of flu in the coming season, but also as a good estimator of future flu risk," Wu said in a University press release. "Including this factor in the flu spread models can lead to significantly better predictions of the flu epidemic."

The study was published recently in the journal. Environmental research letters.

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SOURCE: Florida State University, press release, January 28, 2020

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