Tags: Why | the | Flu | Is | Seasonal | humidity | levels

Why Flu Strikes in Winter: It's the Humidity

Friday, 28 Dec 2012 07:56 AM


Researchers have figured out why the flu peaks at certain times of the year.

According to new research, widespread transmission of the virus has to do with humidity levels. The research was published in a recent issue of the journal PLoS One.

In temperate regions, such as North America and Europe, flu peaks during the winter season, when humidity is low. But in some tropical regions, influenza thrives during the rainy season, noted the researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in Blacksburg.

After measuring the influenza A virus survival rate at different humidity levels, the researchers concluded that flu is more common in winter months because the virus's viability in mucus increases when the relative humidity is below 50 percent. The virus, however, also thrives when the humidity is close to 100 percent, they found.

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"We added flu viruses to droplets of simulated respiratory fluid and to actual human mucus and then measured what fraction survived after exposure to low, medium, and high relative humidities," Linsey Marr, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, said in a university news release.

When the humidity is low indoors in the winter, the researchers explained, respiratory droplets evaporate completely. Under these dry conditions, the virus is better able to survive.

When the humidity rises to moderate levels, however, droplets do not evaporate completely so the virus remains exposed to higher levels of chemicals and is less able to infect cells.

The researchers concluded that humidity affects the concentrations of salts and proteins in respiratory droplets, which affects the survival of the flu virus. That's why flu is seasonal, they reasoned.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu season in the United States runs from October through late May.









© HealthDay

 
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