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Climate change’s big weather swings boosts risk of influenza

Climate change’s big weather swings boosts risk of influenza

As the planet heats up influenza epidemics could shoot up according to researchers at Florida State University.
The risk of a flu epidemic may increase 20% to 50% in populated areas as the planet heats up later in the century, according to computer simulations.

Rapid weather changes in autumn can set the stage for deadly influenza outbreaks in the following months like what happened during one of the warmest winters on record in 2017–2018. That year the CDC reported 186 children’s deaths. The previous high was 171 during the 2012-2013 season.

Long before COVID-19 overshadowed the headlines, Zhaohua Wu, an associate professor at FSU’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science wanted to see how historical big weather swings in the autumn months affected the upcoming flu season in highly populated regions of northern-mid latitudes of the world.

The data contrasted previous research showing successful flu transmission in winter’s colder and less moist air.
Despite the survival of the influenza virus in different ambient conditions, the study shows it can thrive in future erratic weather conditions.

“The historical flu data from different parts of the world showed that the spread of flu epidemic has been more closely tied to rapid weather variability, implying that the lapsed human immune system in winter caused by rapidly changing weather makes a person more susceptible to flu virus,” Wu said.

The issue going forward, scientists noted, is that rapid weather variability is common in warming climates. Having a better understanding of those weather patterns may be key to determining the severity of any future flu season threat.

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