For anyone who's ever suspected that flu spreads more easily in certain kinds of climes than others, you may be on to something.
The National Institutes of Health's Fogarty International Center and the University of Arizona discovered that flu epidemics tend to be associated with humid and rainy climates or cold and dry climates, according to a recent study in the journal PLoS Pathogens. Through these findings, researchers said that areas with these climes could better prepare themselves for flu season.
“The model could have a broader application, encouraging researchers to analyze the association between climatic patterns and infectious disease across a wide range of diseases and latitudes," study researcher Cecile Viboud said in a statement.
The researchers used a global database to examine virus activity in 78 sites from 1975 to 2008. This information provided insight into when the virus appeared most frequently, a phenomenon known as "influenza peaks," according to the study. The researchers also compiled data from other published surveillance studies on the flu and respiratory viruses.
In addition to collecting data from the 78 sites around the world, the researchers also included epidemiological information from Spain, Tunisia, Senegal, Philippines, Vietnam, Colombia, Paraguay, South Africa and Argentina. The nine countries had participated in FluNet, the World Health Organization's global influenza surveillance program.
Viboud and colleagues discovered that temperature and specific humidity were the best indicators of influenza peaks.
"Anecdotal evidence suggests that colder climates have winter flu while warmer climates that experience major fluctuations in precipitation have flu epidemics during the rainy season, and the current study fits that pattern," Viboud said in the statement. "In contrast, the seasonality of influenza is less well-defined in locations with little variation in temperature and precipitation and is a pattern that remains poorly understood."
The models the researchers devised managed to predict the timing of peak flu activity with 75 to 87 percent accuracy.
The researchers believe that the next step is to explore other factors that can influence the spread of influenza, such as specific environments, demography, and even travel.
Flu is not the only health issue that seems to be connected with climate. HuffPost Green reporter Lynne Peeples recently reported on a link between Lyme disease and precipitation and temperature changes from climate change.
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Myth: The Flu Shot Can Give You The Flu
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Myth: If You've Already Had Your Shot, You Are Guaranteed To Be Flu-Free
<strong>Fact:</strong> Unfortunately, even after slapping a bandage on that injection site, you <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm">may only be about 60 percent protected</a>, according to the CDC. That means, yes, you <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/01/08/168814935/can-you-get-a-flu-shot-and-still-get-the-flu">can still get the flu after your shot</a>. Some people may be exposed to the flu in the two weeks it takes for the vaccine to take effect, reports NPR. Others might be exposed to a strain not covered in the vaccine, which is made each year <a href="http://www.flu.gov/prevention-vaccination/vaccination/index.html">based on the viruses experts predict will be the most common</a>, according to Flu.gov. (This year's batch seems to have been matched well to what is actually going around, NPR reports.)
Myth: Antibiotics Can Fight The Flu
<strong>Fact:</strong> Plain and simply, antibiotics fight <em>bacteria</em>, not viruses. The flu -- and colds, for that matter -- are caused by viruses. In fact, <a href="http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ucm078494.htm">antibiotics kill off the "good" bacteria</a> that help to fight off infections, so that viral flu may only get <em>worse</em>.
Myth: The Stomach Flu Is A Type Of Influenza
<strong>Fact:</strong> Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, while often dubbed the "stomach flu," are <a href="http://www.flu.gov/about_the_flu/seasonal/">not typically symptoms of seasonal influenza</a>, which, first and foremost, is a respiratory disease, according to Flu.gov. The flu can sometimes cause these issues, but they won't usually be the <em>main</em> symptoms -- and are more common signs of seasonal flu in children than adults.
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Myth: You Can Get The Flu From Being In The Cold Without A Coat (Or With Wet Hair)
<strong>Fact:</strong> Mom or Grandma probably told you this one at some point, and while you might not feel so cozy if you head out the door straight from the shower, doing so doesn't exactly condemn you to bed. <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/flu-resource-center/10-flu-myths.htm">The <em>only</em> way to catch the flu is to come into contact with the virus</a> that causes it. That might happen <em>while</em> you are outside in the cold, and flu season does certainly happen during cold weather, but it's not because you're cold that you catch the bug.
Myth: There's No Treatment For The Flu
<strong>Fact:</strong> It's not antibiotics that cure-seekers should be looking for. While the two antiviral drugs available to fight the flu aren't a quick fix, they <em>can</em> <a href="http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/top-13-flu-myths?page=2">reduce the length of your bout of the flu and make you less contagious</a> to others, according to WebMD. This year's earlier-than-usual flu season has already led to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/10/flu-vaccine-shortage-tamiflu-_n_2448519.html">shortages of one of the drugs, Tamiflu</a>, in the children's liquid formulation, according to the medication's manufacturers. However, a number of experts in countries around the world have questioned Tamiflu's efficacy in fighting the flu, and some have even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/12/tamiflu-evidence-british-medical-journal-cochrane_n_2117287.html">suggested a boycott until further data is published</a>.