My middle schooler loves to report on the various illnesses of her classmates. On any given day, she says that half of those children not in school are suffering from flu—self-reported, but still.
They may be too sick for school, but they do manage the brave yet desperate text now and again to share their misery with their friends.
I doubt that all of these kids have influenza, but some probably do. As much as it irritates me, I have to admit that my mother was right about cold weather being a factor in catching a virus. At least she was right about the flu virus.
Dr. Peter Palese and colleagues did a study and found that it wasn’t the kids crowding together in school that caused a run of flu, because they’re in school in September and May and there’s no flu in the northern hemisphere at that time.
Dr. Palese also found that there’s little flu in the tropics, where it’s hot and humid.
What the scientists discovered was that the flu virus is most easily transmitted in cold, dry weather.
Unlike the cold virus, which is transmitted by touch (direct contact), for instance through a handshake, the flu virus floats in the air and is inhaled. The colder and drier the air, the longer the virus can float and stay viable.
Another factor is that the lower humidity dries out our nasal passages, which allows the inhaled virus to stick more easily than when we have our nasal barriers up and functioning properly.
A warning: temperatures don’t have to plummet to 10⁰ F for the virus to stay viable. The study indicated that 40⁰ F was more than adequate for excellent transmission of the virus.
So what can you do? Get vaccinated to prevent influenza, and keep your hands clean and away from your mucous membranes (around the gums, eyeballs, and nose) to prevent the transmission of other germs.
And wait for spring!
Image courtesy of Atomische