As the high days of summer wind down, it’s not unusual to move into fall with a box of tissues close by. It’s an autumn cold, and though these are common, you might feel these sniffles are out of season, just a little bit too soon.
It’s true that, soon enough, the cold and flu season will be in full bloom come late autumn and into winter. Why, then, are respiratory infections so common during fall? Why do these viruses strike now?
Often, there’s little to do when a respiratory infection starts except to let it run its course. Certain segments of the population have an increased risk of complications, like the very young, the elderly, and those with asthma.
Viruses that cause respiratory illnesses typically strike starting in the fall and continuing through the winter. Peak virus activity occurs from December to March in the United States. We seem to get a reprieve during the summer.
The reasons for this pattern come down to two fundamental factors: the environment and the host, that of course being us. Between these two factors, virus activity ebbs and, starting in the fall, begins to flow.
From an environmental standpoint, respiratory viruses thrive in cool to cold weather with low relative humidity. Flu viruses, for instance, are more stable with cooler temperatures, able to survive outside a host for longer periods of time, increasing the opportunity for a virus to find another host.
These conditions also help viruses travel through the air, making infection easier. When warmer weather returns, the proteins that surround a virus break down more easily, deactivating its infectious abilities.
As virus hosts, both our behavior and biology come into play. With cooler weather, we tend to spend more time indoors, in rooms with a fixed amount of air, so viruses don’t disperse as easily as they do outside.
Likewise, instead of playing outside all day, kids now spend significant time in a classroom. Since they might be exposed to a sick classmate over consecutive days, the chance of exposure grows higher.
In terms of biology, cooler weather suppresses your immune system, meaning that your body has a harder time fighting off viruses. In particular, the immune system performance of the nasal passages suffers with colder air.
The tiny hairs that scrub pathogens out of the air you breathe slow down. They no longer catch particles the same way they do through the warm months.
Thorough hand-washing reduces the virus load transmitted from surfaces to your hands then to your face, but it’s not as easy to block the path of airborne viruses. Look to surgical-style masks to avoid breathing infectious particles.
If you or a family member has a condition that increases vulnerability to seasonal respiratory illnesses, keep our contact information for Refresh Wellness handy. You can reach us by phone at 469-972-7252, or you can book an appointment online.