Dry environments can increase the risk of catching the flu

As the winter months begin their frigid creep, many households begin digging out their humidifiers to counteract the dryness those months bring.

Cold and Flu


Owen Wiseman
@AVogel_ca


15 October 2019

Why are the winter months so much drier?

When the sun is beaming down on bodies of water, the liquid evaporates and enters the atmosphere in a gas state. This adds moisture and humidity to the environment, but during the winter months when the water is locked beneath sheets of ice, less moisture enters the atmosphere. Melting snow from a solid state in -20°C weather also requires more energy than evaporating water when it is 35°C.

What are some ways to minimize the spread of germs?

Cover your mouth. When one considers any pathogen, an aspect to consider is something known as the vector of transmission. How does this bacteria or virus move around? You are maybe familiar with many of the animal vectors of illness' such as ticks, mosquitos, and racoons. One of the other familiar vectors encountered on a daily basis are bodily fluids such as saliva.

When an individual coughs, about 3,000 droplets of saliva are released, travelling at a speed of 50.4km/h and up to 0.64 meters away according to research in healthy volunteers. Each of these droplets could be carrying a plethora of bacteria or viruses ready to take root in your unsuspecting body. For the sake of those around, if you happen to be ground zero for infection, cough into your sleeve.
Open the windows. Research has shown that levels of pathogens in the air become elevated with a lack of air circulation. The relatively stagnant air allows pathogens to become concentrated in a particular area and form aggregates that could allow the virus to gain a stronger hold in the body due to an increased viral load.
Wash your hands (with soap). Hand-washing has been shown to be superior to hand sanitizers in the prevention of influenza. Sanitizer has the ability to remove the viral particles from skin, but it takes far longer relative to washing. If you wipe your nose with your hand, the alcohol also has a difficult time penetrating the mucous and accessing the flu virus trapped in the mucous.

How does dry air affect viral stability?

As we know from earlier, the summer months add plenty of moisture to the air. This causes respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze to combine with water droplets. This causes the droplets to become larger and heavier, eventually falling from air to ground. In the dry, winter months, there is less moisture to combine with, allowing viruses to travel in airborne respiratory droplets for an extended period of time.

What about cold air? Does it play any role in making me more prone to the flu?

The decreasing temperatures lend even further viral stability to influenza. While more research is needed to fully understand why influenza virions last longer, one hypothesis is that it could be due to alterations of the viral envelope.

The viral envelope is an outer protective layer of lipids that provides protection for the viral material. At cooler temperatures, this layer becomes more solid in a rubbery sense, allowing it to survive travel from person to person and even become more resistant to handwashing detergents.

In addition, inhaling dry air for a period of 30 minutes has been shown to slow mucociliary clearance, a function of the nose whereby fine hairs known as cilia move mucous, via a metachronal wave, and the pathogens caught in the mucous towards the back of the nose. They travel down the throat to the stomach whereby the pathogens typically get broken down by the hydrochloric acid. Researchers also investigated whether meteorological patterns were consistent predictors of how infectious influenza was in a certain area. They found that influenza infections peaked in areas of lower humidity, temperature, and solar radiation when considering higher latitudes.

How does the nose help to filter germs?

The nose hairs create turbulence in the air flowing through the nasal passages, thus encouraging pathogens to become stuck in the mucous secreted in the passages. As mentioned, this mucous then gets pushed towards the throat. One thing to consider is that it isn't just dry air, but cold air that also slows mucociliary clearance allowing pathogens to build up in the nose and subsequently causing congestion.

What can be done to prevent the flu?

There are many products out there for prevention of flu, ways to empower the immune system against the ever-changing influenza viral strains. Products such as Echinaforce work internally to decrease the severity of flu symptoms and recovery time by modulating the immune system.

The plants contain compounds known as alkylamides that modulate the release of inflammatory cytokines, helping to reduce these agents leaves more resources available to fight off the infection.

More recent research has also suggested that Echinaforce may help to prevent secondary infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinusitis. For those looking for a nuclear option after feeling that familiar tickle in the throat, there is also Echinaforce Extra.

What are my options if it's my child that catches the flu?

Recent research analyzed the efficacy of Echinaforce Junior relative to vitamin C in a randomized, double-blind controlled trial conducted in general and pediatric practices throughout Switzerland. By the end of the trial period, the children aged 4 to 12 years experienced a 32.5% reduction in cold and flu episodes, 67.3% fewer days with fever, 65% reduction in complications, and a 76.3% reduction in antibiotic prescription. This sugar-free, clinically effective choice can help protect the young people in your life and help them bounce back sooner!

References

https://msphere.asm.org/content/4/5/e00474-19
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3335026/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3613375/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058675/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097773/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515362/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11936911/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18311130/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19409931/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19912623/
https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsif.2009.0228.focus