Global Warming vs. Influenza, Deathmatch

I love when people take time to research the basics: Why does cold weather mean flu season?

Dr. Palese bought some guinea pigs and exposed them to the flu virus. Just as the paper suggested, they got the flu and spread it among themselves. So Dr. Palese and his colleagues began their experiments.

By varying air temperature and humidity in the guinea pigs’ quarters, they discovered that transmission was excellent at 41 degrees. It declined as the temperature rose until, by 86 degrees, the virus was not transmitted at all.

The virus was transmitted best at a low humidity, 20 percent, and not transmitted at all when the humidity reached 80 percent.

The animals also released viruses nearly two days longer at 41 degrees than at a typical room temperature of 68 degrees.

So the virus not only transmits better at closer to 41 degrees, but its victims also stay contagious longer. Has anyone checked what the weather was like in 1919? I just tried the NOAA database and couldn't make heads nor tails. Not that I'm suggesting the "Spanish" flu wasn't especially virulent -- just that it might have had some help in the weather.
The very name, “influenza,” is an Italian word that some historians proposed, originated in the mid-18th century as influenza di freddo, or “influence of the cold.”
("Proposed, originated" -- both?) This is of course great news for those of us living in subtropical climes (and that will include Ontario by 2015 or so) -- both warm and humid. Growing up in South Florida, I caught colds, but never once got the flu. It was waiting for me when I moved to Arkansas. On February 14th, 2001 I was so sick that I couldn't eat, could barely swallow water, and couldn't smoke for a week (of the three activities, addition trumped hunger and thirst: I tried to light up 2-3 times a day, and had to stub the nail out after a single, pathetic drag; food, I didn't even bother; drink, I wanted, but it hurt to drink, so I didn't do that much). I eventually learned to eat and drink again, but purposefully used that event as a jump-start to quit smoking. So I've always felt a little grateful for the influence. Flu, I'm not sure I could have done it without you!

Nonetheless, I find myself wondering if a side-effect of global warming will fewer addictions broken, or, rather, fewer flus? That's not so bad. Perhaps some minor strain inclined towards warmer temperatures will emerge from the background to thrive, and we can't know what that will do to us -- that's probably the worst-case scenario. We'll see. In the meantime, I'm glad I live where flu don't like it. Maybe you Canadians will be glad too!

Newer Post Older Post Home