Global warming reduces influenza?

A mystery novelist hypothesizes in the New York Times.

In “The Best Part About Global Warming,” mystery novelist Charles Finch writes in the New York Times:

… If anything, the exceptional snowstorms of last winter and the uncommon gentleness of this one are further evidence of global warming, which is characterized by extreme and erratic weather patterns rather than an unceasing rise of the planet’s temperature.

The long-term troubles this sort of weather predicts are alarming. In the short term, however, our warm winter may have one unforeseen and felicitous consequence: a drastic reduction in the incidence of influenza…

Scientists are still studying the complex relationship between flu and climate, and other factors, like an absence of new strains or immunity from past vaccinations, may have contributed to this season’s low numbers. But there is reason to believe that the weather is an important factor. For one thing, studies have established that the flu virus thrives in low humidity, and therefore low temperature — there’s a reason, after all, that the flu usually hits us in January, not July. Cold weather also dries out the nasal passages, making it easier to get the coughs and sneezes that transmit the flu. And it keeps us cooped up inside, passing illnesses around.

The hallmark of the flu is its unpredictability, and it is important even this late in the year to stay vigilant; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still urging everyone to get a flu shot. There are also concerns that a series of soft flu seasons may actually increase our susceptibility to an epidemic, since our bodies would have devoted less energy to fighting the flu and creating immunity. On top of all that, of course, this temporary reprieve is only the scantest mitigation of the probable ultimate consequences for humanity of unchecked global warming. If the world keeps getting warmer, New Yorkers might have to fret more about malaria than pneumonia…

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