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Cold Weather, Not Flu,
Ups Death Risk in Winter

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - An increase in deaths that occurs during the winter months in some countries is often blamed on influenza, more commonly called the flu. But according to a new report, cold weather, rather than the flu virus, is to blame.

Cold weather is associated with short-term spikes in mortality, particularly among older individuals, due mainly to stroke and respiratory disorders, researchers explain in the January 12th issue of the British Medical Journal. However, public health campaigns and media reports have often blamed outbreaks of the flu for the higher seasonal death rate.

To investigate, researchers from Queen Mary and Westfield College in London, UK, analyzed deaths from influenza and all other causes between 1970 and 1999 in southeast England. They used the daily temperature at Heathrow Airport to assess the relationship between temperature and death.

According to the analysis, only 2.4% of the excess winter deaths that occurred each year were caused by the flu, amounting to 1,265 excess annual winter deaths for every 1 million people. What's more, the annual rate of death from the flu declined over time, co-authors Drs. G. C. Donaldson and William R. Keatinge report. This was probably due, they suggest, to higher rates of immunization.

The findings underscore the importance of reducing outdoor exposure to cold weather, the researchers conclude.

``Effective measures to reduce Britain's high rate of excess winter deaths, now around 40,000 to 50,000 per year, require more action on cold exposure outdoors,'' Keatinge said in an interview with Reuters Health.

``Much of that can be done through personal advice on clothing and exercise when outdoors in the cold, but measures such as windproofing bus shelters require government action,'' he added.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal 2002;324:89-90.

Reference Source 89



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