Weather and Disease

Monday, January 14, 2013 // Uncategorized

A lot has been written about the effect of weather conditions on the outbreak of West Nile virus this past summer. You can search my blog for previous postings on this.  This is the first article (or letter) that I have read which suggests that Hurricane Sandy was involved with the early flu outbreak this year.

Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2013 18:10:04 -0500 (EST)
From: ProMED-mail <[email protected]>
Subject: PRO> Influenza (06): 2013 season early start hypothesis

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases

Date: Sat 12 Jan 2013
From: Michael Olesen <[email protected]> [edited]

I have been thinking about the influenza season this year [season
2012-2013], particularly what would account for the number of cases
and its early start. I have an idea that I would like to propose and
hear some feedback about.

My hunch is that we can tie some of the impact of influenza this year
[2012-2013] to Hurricane Sandy. I started thinking about this during a
meeting with my MN1-DMAT [Minnesota-1, Disaster Medical Assistance
Team]. It was triggered by a comment about an outbreak of norovirus at
the medical shelter that my team was staffing.

I started thinking that maybe the use of shelters during the hurricane
brought a lot of people in much closer proximity to each other at a
time when influenza was just starting to ramp up for the year but not
at a time when it was symptomatic. There was clear evidence of
transmission of Spanish flu during the 1918 pandemic over the summer
and that it had mutated substantially during those months. I am not
arguing that there was any mutation due to Hurricane Sandy but
strictly that there was probably a lot of transmission in those close

The next piece of the puzzle has to do with response teams, such as
mine, who provided support to those who were affected. The virus was
being amplified in the shelter populations, and response teams were
coming in from all over the country to help those in need. They, too,
would have been exposed to the virus in the shelter settings and could
have played the role of a vector in bringing the virus to airports,
where they could have spread it still further, and also back to their
communities of origin. Assuming that is the case, then the virus could
have taken a foothold in schools, which would have increased its
prevalence in other municipalities. Since this happened before the 2
main travel holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas), this would account
for its presence in such large numbers and so early this year

If this is the course of the influenza epidemic this year [2012-2013],
there is a pretty strong argument to be made for both early
vaccinations but also for mandating vaccination for kids in school and
for health care workers. In both cases under the scenario I’ve
described, it would have had a major impact on the prevalence of
influenza we are seeing in the United States today.

– —
Michael Olesen
Safety Officer, MN-1 DMAT
Instructional Faculty,
St. Catherine University,
St. Paul, MN

[Michael Olesen’s hypothesis is supported in addition by the
situations in the Northern European Region and North America as
recorded in recent ProMED-mail influenza updates. – Mod.CP]


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