OSU researcher finds link between weather and flu virus

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on March 1, 2010 at 6:54 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:45 AM

Seasonal flu strikes tens of millions of Americans every year. Its outbreaks have long baffled scientists. But an Oregon researcher may have found a way to forecast the flu. He's taken decades of research and boiled it down to a simple solution.

We turn to our most trusted meteorologists to forecast the weather. But could we soon rely on KING 5 Meteorologist Jeff Renner to forecast the flu?

A new study from Oregon State University links flu outbreaks to the weather.

"We found that absolute humidity, which is the amount of water vapor in the air in the environment, seems to be strongly connected with the seasonality of influenza," said Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, Oregon State University.

Studying 30 plus years of data, Shaman found the majority of flu outbreaks happened soon after a cold front moved through the area.

"If we have a cold front come through and we get some of those blue skies and cold temperatures and low humidity in the winter, that might be the conditions you may see an outbreak if one hasn't taken place already," said Renner.

Haman says being able to forecast a potential flu outbreak could minimize its impact. For example, we could better time vaccinations.

"All sorts of intervention methods could be better allocated and resources better planned if you have a stronger sense of how these things manifest and why and when they're going to crop up," said Haman.

He says this research could lead to some changes.

"We manage the temperatures in our indoor environments, so it might be time to start really thinking about managing the humidity levels in indoor environments, particularly in places like hospital wards," said Haman.

But he admits more research needs to be done before you'll find flu being forecast along with the 10-day outlook.

Shaman says his research will also help in fighting other health problems like pneumonia, heart attacks or stroke.

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