In contrast, the 2011-2012 flu season was light, with cases gradually rising after Jan. 1. "And that winter was the fourth warmest on record," Towers said.
So why might a warm winter foretell a nasty flu season next time around? For one, Towers said, research suggests that the flu virus is tougher to transmit during mild weather, because the virus dies faster in warmer, more humid air.
Then, if fewer people get the flu, more people will be vulnerable to catching it the next season, another expert explained.
Dr. Stephen Baum, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said the flu virus "changes its coat" each season, so the strains are not identical year to year. Usually, however, the change is slight. So if you had the flu last season, Baum said, you're somewhat protected this year, and may either not get sick or catch a fairly mild case -- what you might brush off as a "bad cold."
Baum agreed that the new findings do not prove that a mild winter directly causes a more miserable flu season the next time. "They're just saying that's a possibility," he said.
But Baum and Towers both stressed the importance of getting your yearly flu shot, which experts recommend for everyone older than 6 months of age.
And if last winter was warm, Towers said, it might be wise to get that shot sooner rather than later. Baum noted, however, that even if you battled and beat a bad case of the flu this year, you still need to get vaccinated next year. That infection may give you some protection next flu season, but the vaccine gives you more.
An estimated 36,000 Americans die from the flu and its complications, such as pneumonia, in a typical season, according
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