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The combination of climate change and last year’s El Niño phenomenon likely created the perfect playground for the Zika virus to spread rapidly across South America, a new study finds.

Both the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that carry it have been present in different parts of the world for a while. But several factors, including specific climatic conditions, could have catapulted the disease to public health emergency status, according to researchers from the University of Liverpool.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that the risk of transmission of Zika in South America was at its highest in 65 years in 2015.

That’s largely because mosquito-borne diseases can be extremely sensitive to climate. Shifts in rainfall and temperature patterns can change mosquito populations; and changes in temperature can also make mosquitoes more likely to transmit diseases through biting.

Given those factors, the report states that it’s “very likely” the Zika outbreak was fueled by the El Niño event — especially since the El Niño occurred against the backdrop of steadily rising temperatures in the region.

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