World War I and Spanish Flu made worse by climate ‘anomaly’ – study

As World War I was coming to an end in 1918, a major pandemic was rearing its ugly head. Combined, the two resulted in more than 70 million deaths, but it could have been much less if it was not for an abnormal weather patch.

New climate research has revealed there were unusually cold patches and frequent torrential rainfall between 1914 and 1919 throughout Europe.

Analysis of an ice core extracted from the Swiss-Italian Alps revealed there was a drastic change in atmospheric circulation which led to the drop in temperatures, according to the study published in the journal GeoHealth.

The almost constantly damp conditions would have contributed to an increase in trench foot and frostbite for soldiers, as well as a rise in pneumonia cases.

Not only did the change make already horrible conditions much worse for soldiers in the trenches, but it also created the perfect breeding ground for the Spanish Flu, allowing it to spread more easily.

Climate scientist Alexander More from Harvard University said: “Atmospheric circulation changed and there was much more rain, much colder weather all over Europe for six years.

“In this particular case, it was a once in a 100-year anomaly.

“I’m not saying that this was ‘the’ cause of the pandemic, but it was certainly a potentiator, an added exacerbating factor to an already explosive situation.”

Christopher Loveluck from the University of Nottingham in the UK said: “We found the association between increased wetter and colder conditions and increased mortality to be especially strong from mid-1917 to mid-1918, spanning the period from the third battle of Ypres to the first wave of Spanish flu.”

Professor Philip Landrigan, Director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College, who was not connected to the new study, said lessons can be learned from the study in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

Prof Landrigan said: “It’s interesting to think that very heavy rainfall may have accelerated the spread of the virus.

“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.

“I think it’s a very credible, provocative study that makes us think about the interplay between infectious diseases and the environment in new ways.”

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