New Research Links Winter Cold Spell to Influenza Outbreaks

Date: January 31, 2017

A new study conducted by researchers in Sweden, revealed patterns between the first cold spell of winter and seasonal flu outbreaks. "Airborne particles containing liquid and virus-from a sneeze, for example-can spread more easily in cold and dry weather, say the study authors. Dry air absorbs moisture from the particles, shrinking them and helping them stay in the air longer and travel longer distances." While the flu still spreads in climates that do not experience cold snaps, the results of the study can help to predict the onset of the influenza virus in areas that do experience colder temperatures.

Throughout the United States, influenza activity is on the rise. On the west coast, 14 people under the age of 65 have died this flu season in California, compared to three deaths at the same time last year. According to Dr. Michael Neely, interim chief of infectious disease at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, "if you compare this time last year we're seeing twice as many flu cases...if it keeps going up at this rate and stays up then we will see a lot more cases this year." The Midwest is also experiencing a spike in influenza cases. The state of Oklahoma reports that 54 individuals were hospitalized or died due to influenza during the short time period from January 4 through January 10, increasing the total count of hospitalizations for the season overall to 226. In Pennsylvania, the number of confirmed flu cases has reached 10,766, and the number of deaths for the entire season is now up to 12.

Influenza Positive Tests Reported to CDC by U.S. Clinical Laboratories, National Summary, 2016-17 Season

While the flu season typically peaks in February, there really is no way to know for certain how long it will last. Since the vaccine generally takes two weeks before it begins to protect the individual against the virus, it is crucial people receive the vaccination as soon as possible.

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