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The Flu Outbreak and Climate Change: What's the Connection?


High cases of the flu, which are currently plaguing 38 states, may be the result of shifts in the climate, according to a recent study published in the journal PLOS Currents: Influenza.

According to LiveScience, the researchers at Arizona State University looked at data going back to 1997, and found that warmer winters usually led to severe and early outbreaks of the flu the following season. They were driven to the research because of this year's early flu outbreak with a higher number of cases than other years. So far this flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have counted 59 children who have died from flu-related issues and more than 7,000 adults have been hospitalized. (States do not have to report flue-related deaths in adults.)

The research team used data from the CDC and discovered a pattern, noting that in warm winters, the flu is "less transmittable" and fewer people catch it as a result. They generally don't get flu vaccinations those years, either. That means the following season, immunity goes down and people are more susceptible to getting the flu that year.

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According to the researchers, on average, milder winters mean that 72 percent of the time, the next season's flu outbreak will be considerably more severe. Growth rates were 40 percent higher and the peak was 11 days earlier with an 80 percent chance it would erupt before the year's end. And that's not good news for a continuously warming planet, says the researchers.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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