New link found between climate change and risk for flu epidemics

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(WWLP) – Scientists now believe that weather swings due to climate change may be linked to an increased risk of flu epidemics.

Rapid weather swings increase flu risk

The research from a team at Florida State University was just released at the end of January in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Research Letters

The team studied weather and health data simultaneously over more than two decades, from 1997 to 2018. That’s nearly 8,000 days of data. They studied not only the U.S. but China, Italy, and France — other highly-populated regions.

Initially, scientists researched the link between cold temperatures and low humidity as a precursor to flu risk. But this new idea of climate change affecting flu risk came up during the winter of 2017-2018. It was one of the warmest on record, yet the CDC reported it was one of the deadliest flu seasons. And those Florida State researchers realized the fall of 2017, before that winter, was one filled with wild temperature swings.

So after the study, the scientists found that the extreme fluctuations in the weather during the autumn months can kick start the flu. This creates a large base of people sick with the flu early in the season, that, in highly-populated areas, can quickly grow through the winter.

But why is it that weather swings can make us more sick? Well, rapid weather variability can impact our immune systems, and make us more susceptible to catching the flu. So the research found that the spread of a flu epidemic is more closely tied to weather swings, rather than cold temperatures and dry air.

This is bad news for the future, as climate scientists predict the globe to continue to warm with climate change. The warmer the climate, the more rapid weather changes we get.

This research has future benefits because scientists can use this data to help better predict the severity of flu seasons.

The study finishes with this shocking finding:

Rapid weather changes in the autumn will continue to strengthen in the studied areas, implying that the risk of flu epidemics may increase anywhere from 20 to 50 percent in highly-populated areas in the decades to come, especially later in the 21st century.

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