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Climate Change Won't Lower Number of Winter Deaths, Study Claims

Most fatalities stem from flu and respiratory illnesses, researchers find

FRIDAY, June 19, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Climate change won't reduce the number of people who die during winter, a new study suggests.

Researchers used statistical models to examine the factors that contribute to the deaths of older people during winter. The model was based on people living in the United States and France who have access to warm living environments, the researchers said.

The results suggest that cities with warmer winters have similar levels of winter deaths as cities with colder winters, according to the study.

The findings were published June 19 in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

"For years I've been hearing people say that global warming will reduce winter deaths but I wanted to check this claim out for myself," said study leader Patrick Kinney, a Columbia University professor of environmental health sciences, and director of the Columbia Climate and Health Program.

He said this study was important because "we need to know the potential impacts of climate change on health so that we can plan public health interventions accordingly," he said in a journal news release.

The study found that most people who die in the winter do so from complications related to flu and other respiratory diseases, Kinney noted.

"Unfortunately the holiday season probably plays a part; when older people mix with the younger generations of their families, they come into contact with all the bugs that the kids have brought home from school," he explained.

Kinney added that getting the flu vaccine and practicing good hygiene are effective interventions for preventing flu.

Other causes of death related to cold weather include slips and falls, heart attacks while shoveling snow, and hypothermia. But the number of deaths from those causes are much lower than the number caused by flu and other communicable diseases.

As for warmer seasons, previous research has shown that climate change will increase the number of deaths during the summer. These summer deaths will likely be due to higher rates of insect-borne diseases, food poisoning and respiratory failure caused by increased air pollution and pollen levels, according to the researchers.

More information

The World Health Organization has more about climate change and health.

SOURCE: Environmental Research Letters, news release, June 18, 2015
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