The 2012-13 influenza season had an unusually early and severe start in the US, succeeding the record mild 2011-12 influenza season, which occurred during the fourth warmest winter on record. Our analysis of climate and past US influenza epidemic seasons between 1997-98 to present indicates that warm winters tend to be followed by severe epidemics with early onset, and that these patterns are seen for both influenza A and B. We posit that fewer people are infected with influenza during warm winters, thereby leaving an unnaturally large fraction of susceptible individuals in the population going into the next season, which can lead to early and severe epidemics.
In the event of continued global warming, warm winters such as that of 2011-12 are expected to occur more frequently. Our results thus suggest that expedited manufacture and distribution of influenza vaccines after mild winters has the potential to mitigate the severity of future influenza epidemics.
Towers S, Chowell G, Hameed R, Jastrebski M, Khan M, Meeks J, Mubayi A, Harris G. Climate change and influenza: the likelihood of early and severe influenza seasons following warmer than average winters. PLOS Currents Influenza. 2013 Jan 28. Edition 1 . doi:10.1371/currents.flu.3679b56a5616dc7c043fb944c6f138.
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