Every year without fail, we are faced with the knowledge of the upcoming flu season. In fact, we are all psychologically prepared for the forthcoming couple of months that follow when our children or loved ones bring home the sniffles that quickly manifest as fever, body aches and cough.
The question is why do these viruses tend to affect us mostly in these colder months?
Unlike what we have been told by our loved ones growing up, it is a myth that the cold weather itself causes us to get sick. In other words, going out without a jacket is not going to increase your likelihood of catching a virus. Instead, the answer seems to lie in the lack of humidity in the air. While, research in this area is still developing, current literature is suggesting that the influenza virus survives better in cold air because it is drier air (Lowen et al., 2007). According to researchers, when the air is humid, the water droplets fall to the ground taking the virus and germs with it. However, winter air lacks the moisture, allowing for the germs and virus to thrive in our surroundings for longer.
Another theory for the prevalence of the winter flu, is that we tend to spend more time indoors. Spending more time inside in close contact with each other increases the likelihood of germs being spread with more efficacy. Remember, we need to at least stay 3ft (1m) apart from one another in order to avoid airborne transmission. Additionally, we keep our windows and doors closed during these months in order to stay warm, further increasing the likelihood of the virus also remaining indoors and, on all surfaces, as well. This is the reason why offices and schools tend to be breeding grounds for the flu.
By staying indoors more, we also lessen our exposure to sunlight, which when in contact with our skin, gives us that precious Vitamin D that our bodies and immune system so desperately need.
Some tips that may help protect us when dealing with dry air include:
- Keeping nasal passages moist with simple saline nasal sprays
- Making sure to breathe through the nose and not the mouth, since the nose is equipped with protective mechanisms to filter unwanted debris
- Use humidifiers throughout the home environment to moisten the air, especially in the bedrooms
If you are interested in learning more on how to boost your immunity during flu season, you can refer to my post on the Coronavirus. While the post is specific to the facts of that epidemic, the recommendations to boost immunity can be applied to all viruses.
Lowen, A. C., Mubareka, S., Steel, J., & Palese, P. (2007). Influenza virus transmission is dependent on relative humidity and temperature. PLoS Pathog, 3(10), e151.