Why Flu Spreads in Winter

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Feb 04, 2013

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Boy having feverFlu is synonymous with winter; in fact we rarely see it at any other time of the year. Why is this? - What makes the flu spread more during the cold, winter months than the warm summer ones? Why is there a greater chance of acquiring the flu in December than in July?


The cold and dry conditions of the winter season are perfect for the spread of the virus as it can move through the thin air more efficiently when the humidity and temperature are low. So you should keep your home or office at a warm temperature, and create as much moisture in the air as possible.




Anice Lowe PhD – at New York’s Mount Sanai School of Medicine – used a team of guinea pigs to study how the flu virus spreads more rapidly in winter. Her team varied the temperature and humidity in the cages, and saw that the specific flu virus spread more efficiently in a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to 68 degrees; the virus ceased to transmit at 86 degrees Fahrenheit.


Low humidity (20-35 per cent) also proved to be an efficient factor when controlling its spread and the virus didn’t transmit when humidity levels reached 80 per cent.


Peter Palese – an influenza researcher at the Mount Sanai School – said that flu viruses are happier in cold temperatures and a low humidity, because the particles can float in the air in tiny respiratory droplets. When the air gets thicker, these droplets acquire moisture, grow heavier and fall to the ground, effectively out of commission.


It remains unclear why we release viruses at lower temperatures however. One possibility is that our upper airways are cooler, making it a stable environment for the virus to propagate.


Avoiding the virus


It’s critical to understand how you might acquire this winter flu to help you avoid it. It spreads from one individual to another, directly or indirectly. You catch it directly by breathing the droplets from a cough or a sneeze of an infected individual, or from simply sitting too close to them. Your chances of acquiring it indirectly are also real, from bad hygienic practices, i.e. using the same objects - such as a towel or mug - as an infected individual.


What this research essentially proves is that flu viruses have more punch in winter because the weather promotes its proliferation. Wrapping up and staying warm - as advised by everyone dear to you - won’t protect you from the winter flu unfortunately, but maintaining a humid and warm environment in your home and office will help.



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