BREAKING NEWS Finally Feeling Like Fall Full Story

How environmental conditions like cold and wet weather can affect pandemics, and what that means for COVID-19

Numerous scientists have studied how the 1918 flu spread to become the deadliest pandemic in history and which interventions worked, research that is becomin...

Posted: Sep 28, 2020 5:06 PM

Numerous scientists have studied how the 1918 flu spread to become the deadliest pandemic in history and which interventions worked, research that is becoming increasingly relevant during the current coronavirus crisis.

But little research has been done on how environmental conditions affected the 1918 pandemic -- until now.

The 1918 flu coincided with the final years of the World War I, and it's been well documented that heavy rain and cold temperatures impacted many battles. Now, a new study reveals that the cold, rainy weather was part of a once-in-a-century climate anomaly that occurred from 1914 to 1919 and added to the severity of the 1918 pandemic.

"We knew before, of course, from photos and eyewitness testimonies that the battlefields of Europe were really muddy and rainy and soldiers died of all sorts of exposure, even drowning in the mud and the trenches sometimes. What is news is that in fact it was a six-year anomaly and not just one or two instances," said lead researcher Alexander More, a research associate at Harvard University's history department and an assistant professor at the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute.

A team of more than a dozen scientists collected and analyzed an Alpine ice core to reconstruct the environmental conditions of Europe during the World War I. The process involves using a laser that melts a tiny bit from the ice surface and analyzing the chemicals released from each layer of water vapor. It's so precise they can pinpoint exact seasons from each layer of ice.

Researchers then compared that ice core data to historical records of deaths during that time period and records of precipitation and temperatures from each month.

The researchers discovered that lingering cold, wet weather during the winters of 1915, 1916 and 1918 was caused by abnormally high rushes of marine air from the North Atlantic. Deaths in Europe peaked three times during World War I and all the spikes occurred during or soon after heavy rain and cold weather, according to the study.

"The rain basically matches how many people died. There's a double peak in the fall of 1918, which is when the second wave and the most lethal wave of the Spanish flu occurred," said More, also an associate professor of public health at Long Island University. "So of course as we're looking at the second wave of Covid right now and what will happen ... this is a warning of what may come."

The study also shows that this six-year atmospheric anomaly may have disrupted the migratory patterns of several bird species during the war years, including mallard ducks, which are the main animal hosts of H1N1 flu viruses.

That meant more Mallard ducks remained in Europe, where they could continue to transmit the flu to humans through water contaminated with bird droppings.

"It's interesting to think that very heavy rainfall may have accelerated the spread of the virus," said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College, who is unaffiliated with the new study. "One of the things we've learned in the Covid pandemic is that viruses seem to stay viable for longer in humid air than in dry air. So it makes sense that if the air in Europe was full of humidity during those years of World War I, that the transmission of the virus might have been accelerated."

Climate change and Covid-19

The research on 1918 has eerie similarities to the current crisis, as many parts of the world appear to be entering a second wave of Covid-19, or remain in a prolonged first wave of the virus.

Not only are many parts of the Northern Hemisphere starting to see less warm and sunny weather in the transition to fall, but climate change continues to have adverse effects across the globe. For example, the Atlantic is experiencing one of its busiest hurricane seasons on record.

"It is really the convergence of our two major crises -- man-made climate change and infectious disease," More said. "Absolutely, climate is going to affect the likelihood of infectious disease outbreaks. It has in the past and it will in the future."

According to More, the same patterns created by climate anomalies that affected the severity and spread of the 1918 flu pandemic are happening right now. And Covid-19 is not the only infectious disease impacted by climate change.

"Many other ongoing epidemics are affected by climate and especially man-made climate change. For example, zika and dengue fever are transmitted by mosquitoes, and now those mosquitoes are reaching places that they never reached before," he said. "The same can be said about other bacteria and diseases throughout the world."

In an unprecedented year that seems to bring one crisis after another, climate scientists say that it's important to look at the connections between them, and how climate-related issues such as extreme weather, storm surges, wildfires, and homelessness created in the wake of natural disasters can create adverse conditions that allow infectious diseases to spread more easily.

"There's no question that they are connected," More said, adding that more interdisciplinary research is needed to better understand the links between climate change and pandemics.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 813481

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139971910
Mobile722271323
Madison51970686
Shelby37279341
Baldwin37069540
Tuscaloosa34934599
Montgomery33953725
Lee23142240
Calhoun22142470
Morgan20639372
Etowah19758496
Marshall18245300
Houston17302405
St. Clair15912337
Cullman15306290
Limestone15202198
Elmore15075284
Lauderdale14143294
Talladega13715272
DeKalb12569259
Walker11085366
Blount10094174
Autauga9893146
Jackson9789180
Coffee9182189
Dale8859181
Colbert8789200
Tallapoosa7044195
Escambia6732127
Covington6682179
Chilton6587160
Russell625958
Franklin5930105
Chambers5559142
Marion4955126
Dallas4882199
Clarke472782
Pike4719105
Geneva4564126
Winston4473101
Lawrence4264117
Bibb421686
Barbour355475
Marengo334089
Monroe330262
Randolph327063
Butler324794
Pickens313882
Henry310965
Hale309187
Cherokee299957
Fayette290679
Washington250951
Cleburne246958
Crenshaw243575
Clay240367
Macon230562
Lamar215846
Conecuh185652
Coosa178538
Lowndes173761
Wilcox167438
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131038
Greene125544
Choctaw86927
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 45°
Columbus
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 46°
Oxford
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 41°
Starkville
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 46°
A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
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