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How does cold weather impact the spread, survival of the flu virus?

October 30, 2018 Health and Wellness No Comments Email Email

With the start of flu season underway as temperatures begin to drop in October and November, it may seem as though the contagious influenza virus tends to thrive as the weather conditions become colder.

An October 2007 study shed some light on the topic. It demonstrated that guinea pigs that were infected with the virus, which is mainly spread among humans in the air via droplets when infected people cough, sneeze or speak, were more likely to infect other guinea pigs in lower temperatures rather than in warmer conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

However, Dr. Jean Moorjani, a board-certified pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, clarified that the contagious virus’s relation to the cold is partially true and partially false.

“Some of the things we grew up hearing was, ‘bundle up, you’ll catch a cold,’ or, ‘you need to get a jacket or a hat, or you’ll get sick,’” said Moorjani, who added that merely being exposed to cold weather is not the cause of flu infection, which killed about 80,000 people during the 2017-18 flu season.

“The biggest thing people should understand is cold itself doesn’t make you sick,” she said. “You need to actually be infected with the virus [in order to become ill].”

A few studies have shown that the virus can be strengthened by colder weather conditions, according to Moorjani.

Although the changing seasons don’t actually affect how the flu virus is transmitted, the virus, which can be detected and spread all year round, is believed to be adversely affected by higher temperatures, according to California-based emergency medicine physician Dr. Petrina Craine.

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