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New study shows wet and cold conditions can accelerate pandemics

Tuesday, September 29th 2020, 7:29 pm - Alexander More, a research associate at Harvard says that as far as climate change and pandemics go, "There's no question that they are connected."

As many areas around the world enter a second wave of COVID-19, it's essential to look at historical data for recommendations on how to manage the impact.


The 1918 flu is recorded as the deadliest pandemic in history. Up until now, there haven't been any studies on how environmental factors can affect a pandemic's spread.

A new study, published in GeoHealth illustrates that the rare wet and rainy conditions that occurred between 1914 and 1919 accelerated the severity of the 1918 pandemic.

Alexander More, a research associate at Harvard University's history department and an assistant professor at the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute, led a team of scientists in a study that uses an Alpine ice core to understand the weather patterns during World War 1 (which overlapped with 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," shared More.

The study uses a laser to melt a little bit of ice to understand its chemical composition. From this information, the scientists can understand weather conditions from a precise period in time.

The data was compared to the death rates during WW1. The researchers discovered a correlation between the wet and cold conditions of the 1915, 1916 and 1918 winters, and an increase of deaths.

More explains that "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," adding, "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."

wave 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The study also revealed that this six-year atmospheric anomaly might have affected the migratory paths of certain birds, like mallard ducks. Mallard ducks are the main animal that carries H1N1 flu viruses.

Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College, explains that "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."


It's no secret that the Atlantic experienced one of its most hectic seasons on record (All quiet in the Atlantic: Is the record-breaking hurricane season over?).

More connects the current erratic climate conditions with those discovered in the study. He also correlates the effects of the ultra-rainy 1918 winter season and the increased spread of the flu pandemic with the current unstable weather conditions and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

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

More suggests that additional research is required to better uncover the connections between climate change and pandemics, but he exclaims that "There's no question that they are connected."

Thumbnail photo credit: Wikipedia

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