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La Niña May Help Create New Flu Pandemics January 20, 2012
Birds hovering
Weather changes brought on by La Niņa may bring different birds together, where they create new strains of the influenza virus.
The La Niņa ocean-cooling phenomenon in the tropical Pacific has now been linked to global influenza pandemics.

While such outbreaks haven’t occurred in conjunction with every documented La Niña, they did precede the Spanish Flu that began in 1918, the Asian Flu of 1957, the Hong Kong influenza in 1968 and the H1N1 scare in 2009.

Columbia University infectious disease transmission expert Jeffrey Shaman says the reason probably lies in how La Niña affects weather patterns, which in turn change bird migration, stopover times, and fitness, as well as bringing different species together.

Those factors could cause changes in the influenza virus strains as the birds mix and mingle, resulting in new pandemic strains.

Subsequent human contact with the birds is believed to pass the virus on, setting the stage for a global pandemic.

Photo: File