Last week as I was listening to the news of how bad this year’s flu outbreak is, I began to wonder why the flu only seems to be a problem during the winter months. I didn’t have to wonder for long. On Sunday the National Institutes of Health announced that findings by a team of their scientists may account for why the flu virus is more infectious in cold winter temperatures than during the warmer months.
It seems that in cooler temperatures (slightly above freezing and below) the outer covering of the virus hardens to a rubbery gel that protects it, enabling it to withstand travel from person to person. Once the virus gets into the respiratory tract, the warmth of the body causes the covering to melt into a liquid form. The virus is then able to infect the cells of its new host.
As temperatures get warmer (around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and above), the virus’ covering begins to thaw and turn into a liquid, which isn’t tough enough to shield it from the elements – so the virus loses its ability to spread from person to person. When temperatures stay warm, the individual flu viruses dry out and weaken and the flu season wanes.
This discovery of how flu viruses are spread opens new potential avenues of research. Now scientists can work toward developing strategies to disrupt the virus’ protective covering and prevent it from spreading. Until that happens, staying inside where the temperatures are warmer may be our best defense.
While getting the flu is a miserable experience for anyone, it’s even worse for people with chronic pain illnesses like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. What is a one to two week illness for the average person can last for two months or more for people with FM or CFS. Although the acute phase may pass in two or three weeks, the residual effects can last much, much longer.
Hopefully flu season is on its way out this year. But until it’s completely gone, I would encourage you not to take any chances. I’ve pretty much been in hibernation the past few weeks, only going out when absolutely necessary. When I do have to go out, I wash and disinfect my hands frequently. There are no guarantees, but I’m doing all I can reasonably do to protect myself.
I hope the rest of your winter will be healthy and flu-free!