Influenza, or the flu, is more than just fever, aches, coughs, and a sore throat. It’s not just a nuisance that keeps adults home from work and children home from school as it runs its course within a week or two. The flu can last for much longer than that and can come with many complications – it’s responsible for 80,000 deaths in the U.S. last year alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The “flu season” is a range of time each year when more people get the flu. The timing of flu season changes from year to year. It varies by geographic location, and every area has a slightly different range of time when it peaks. Despite the variations in timing, incidence of the flu is always higher in the cold weather months.
Why Do More People Get the Flu During Fall and Winter?
Scientists do not know for certain, but they do have some theories on why flu season occurs when it does, including:
Being Inside All the Time
Staying indoors may make it easier to share germs. But large groups of people are confined together in the warmer months too, and there are still more cases of flu when it is cold. This could be a contributing factor to flu season, but there is more going on there.
Less Sun Weakens Immunity
Shorter days in winter means less sun, which could contribute to susceptibility to the flu virus. A natural reduction in nutrients from the sun, like vitamin D, can mean your immune system is not quite as robust in the winter. Many people also experience increased feelings of depression when there is less light (called seasonal affective disorder or SAD), which can make the immune system weaker.
Easy Transmission in Cold Air
Influenza lives longer and is transmitted more easily though cold, dry air. This part of the flu season hypothesis was actually tested on guinea pigs, since researchers can’t give the flu to people for the sake of science. They found that the flu virus is transmitted to more subjects through dry air because it travels better in dry air and lives longer under less humid conditions.
How to Protect Yourself from the Flu
Getting the flu vaccine every year is the most important preventive step, according to the CDC. Even if a vaccinated person contracts the flu, the illness is less severe and shorter than for those who do not get a flu shot.
Anything you can do to boost your immune system during colder months can also help prevent the flu. Maintain your health with immune-boosting supplements like vitamin C, eat a healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, get fresh air and exercise, and keep a check on your stress levels since too much stress can also lower your immune system.
Common sense preventive actions like covering coughs and sneezes with your arm instead of hands, frequent hand washings or using hand sanitizer, and avoiding people who are noticeably sick also help prevent spreading the flu.
Seek Treatment at the First Signs of Flu
Your doctor can diagnose influenza and prescribe antiviral medication that can greatly improve flu symptoms, especially if taken soon after its onset.
Intercoastal Medical Group, in Sarasota and Manatee counties of Florida, offers primary care from physicians and top specialists for your family – through flu season and beyond.
We have eight locations for your convenience. For urgent care on the weekend, call us at (941) 366-2460 in Sarasota or (941) 538-0015 in Bradenton. If you’re a new patient, use our online form to request an appointment with one of our experienced and caring providers.