News / Health

Study Links Flu Pandemics to La Niña

New varieties emerge when virus-carrying birds change migration path

Health workers pack dead chicken at a wholesale poultry market in Hong Kong, on Dec. 21, 2011, after a bird flu scare in China.
Health workers pack dead chicken at a wholesale poultry market in Hong Kong, on Dec. 21, 2011, after a bird flu scare in China.

Multimedia

Audio
Art Chimes

A newly-identified link between pandemic flu and the weather phenomenon known as La Niña, may one day permit advance warnings of severe influenza outbreaks.

Most of the time, influenza is a temporary annoyance. But every so often a super flu bug comes along, killing millions and sickening many more.

Jeffrey Shaman, of the Columbia University School of Public Health, notes there were four documented flu pandemics in the past century.

"When we look at those four events, we see that all four of them began directly after a La Niña event in the Pacific," he says.



La Niña is a periodic cooling of Pacific ocean waters that triggers changes in global weather patterns. Among other things, that altered weather disrupts bird migrations.

Birds can carry flu virus, and when their migratory patterns change, they can come into contact with other avian species they don't normally meet - birds which might carry a different strain of flu virus.

In the process, the viruses’ genetic material can get intermingled to create new influenza strains - in a process known as reassortment.

"And it's this reassortment, this creation of new sub-types that takes place - and we think it's in the bird population - that generates, potentially, these pandemic strains that can infect humans and to which most of the world's population will be susceptible," Shaman says.

La Niña events happen every few years, and most are not followed by a pandemic. But because the risk of a pandemic appears to increase after a La Niña, the next step for researchers is to get a better understanding of how birds and the flu viruses they carry are affected.

One result, Shaman says, may be the ability to improve prediction of an influenza pandemic.

"That's the thing that's exciting about it," he says. "I mean, it offers this sort of tantalizing possibility that you can say, we have a La Niña coming, we need to make these preparations because we know there's an increased likelihood that a pandemic flu strain could arise and infect humans."

But Shaman cautions that more research is needed before that kind of prediction becomes possible. His research paper is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid