Why this weather is fueling the flu outbreak
POSTED: Saturday, January 25, 2014 - 4:23pm
UPDATED: Saturday, January 25, 2014 - 4:24pm
Flu related deaths increasing in Texas
(El Paso) KTSM — I know Chuck and I have already talked about why the weather is fueling the influenza outbreak.
But it is very important to understand that with this cold and dry weather, the virus is only getting more fuel to light it's fire.
My mother has been sick for weeks, and as she commutes from El Paso, TX to Hatch, NM to areas where it is both cold and dry, she has more chances of catching this deadly virus.
Luckily, her illness is nothing more than a cold, and not the flu.
But for today's Weather Talk, I will not only recap why the dry weather in many parts across Texas is fueling the virus, but also a reminder to get the flu shot if you haven't already. Like the saying goes, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Quick Fact: The name influenza comes from the Italian word influenza, meaning "influence" referring to the "influence of the season" (winter) in causing the illness.
The cold temperatures and lower humidity of winter cause increase transmission of the flu virus,which is why the current H1N1 swine flu outbreak doing so well.
According to "Influenza Virus Transmission Is Dependent on Relative Humidity and Temperature" by Lowen, A.C., S. Mubareka, J. Steel, and P. Palese in the edition of October 2007, a test was conducted using guinea pigs to see how influenza can develop in human bodies.
Quick Note: For all the animal lovers, you will be happy to know, the influenza virus-infected guinea pigs did not display detectable symptoms of disease such as weight loss, fever, sneezing, and coughing during the experiments.
The experiment was tested in various climate changes, and scientists found that the animals' immune system showed no signs of stress from the cold weather, which argues against the idea that cold conditions lead to increased infections by lowering the immune system.
However, lower humidity were found to increase flu transmission rate. And a good example is being lived right now in Texas. Dallas County has already confirmed 40 flu related deaths, El Paso County has confirmed 11 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control.
According to Dallas News, of the 3,587 flu tests at local hospitals and doctors’ offices last week in Dallas County, 14.7 percent were positive for the flu.
Nationally, 13 states were reporting high flu activity, according to the latest update from the CDC. They included Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Going back to the experiment, scientist found that at a high relative humidity rate of about 80%, droplets from a cough or a sneeze grow pretty large as water vapor condenses around them.
These drops quickly settle to the ground under the force of gravity, which means even though the virus is stable at high humidity, it settles out of the atmosphere quickly, and cannot contribute to influenza virus spread.
So what's the conclusion in all of this? Get the flu shot as soon as possible. The epidemic, as the flu outbreak is now being called, will probably last through May since the outbreak started late in December.
Food for Thought: Warmer temps and high humidity is what keeps this virus stable. In the United States alone, an average of 41,400 deaths and 1.68 million hospitalizations are attributed to influenza each year.
So theoretically, a warmer climate would be the best scenario to keep this virus away from killing humans right?
Well these gains come with another problem. In a warmer world, malaria will become more widespread and can be deadlier, since malaria kills about one million people per year.