“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 team reviewed air surface temperatures from the beginning of January 1997 to the end of February 2018 to analyze weather patterns and average temperatures spanning more than 7,700 days. At the same time, they analyzed influenza data over the same period stemming from the four countries.
» RELATED: Flu season shaping up to be one of the worst in years
Although past research indicated low temperatures and humidity create the right environment to transmit the flu virus, the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the warmest and deadliest. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 186 children's deaths that season. In the state of Georgia, 145 people died. Before then, 171 total deaths were reported during the 2012-2013 season.
The new research shows extreme changes in weather basically launched the flu. Patients quickly built up in densely populated areas as the virus spread.
Scientists say a better understanding of rapidly changing weather in warming climates may be key in determining how severe a future flu season may be. Based on the climate models, it’s expected that highly populated areas will have an increased flu risk.
» RELATED: Flu activity in Georgia still widespread but drops sharply
“The autumn rapid weather variability and its characteristic change in a warming climate may serve not only as a skillful predictor for spread of flu in the following season but also a good estimator of future flu risk,” Wu said. “Including this factor in flu spread models may lead to significantly improved predictions of flu epidemic.”
Wu and his team are continuing with their research, the goal of which is to create a model that combines factors from health and medicine as well as environmental attributes. They include traditional flu indicators and weather patterns.
If this year’s flu season is any indication, such models will be needed.
A January report noted the current flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst on record. In Georgia, flu-related hospitalizations in metro Atlanta has surpassed 700. The Department of Public health said there have been 42 flu-associated deaths confirmed so far this season.