My hope is that by understanding why the flu spreads in winter we can find simple measures to stop its spread. A common misconception is that the flu is caused by cold temperatures. However, the influenza virus is necessary to have the flu, so cold temperatures can only be a contributing factor. In fact, even its name, “influenza” may be a reference to its original Italian name, influenza di freddo, meaning “influence of the cold”.
The virus is more stable and stays in the air longer when air is cold and dry, the exact conditions for much of the flu season. It is therefore transmitted better at low temperatures and low humidity than at high temperatures and high humidity.
When we breathe in cold air, the blood vessels in our nose may constrict to stop us losing heat. This may prevent white blood cells (the warriors that fight germs) from reaching our mucus membranes and killing any viruses that we inhale, allowing them to slip past our defences unnoticed.
Any time we splutter with a flu or cold, we expel a mist of particles from our nose and mouths. In moist air, these particles may remain relatively large, and drop to the floor. But in dry air, they break up into smaller pieces – eventually becoming so small that they can stay aloft for hours or days. The result is that in winter, you are breathing a cocktail of dead cells, mucus and viruses from anyone and everyone who has visited the room recently.
stay warm, and invest in a humidifier. simply running an air humidifier in a school for one hour could kill around 30% of the viruses flying around the air.
Flu viruses spread through the air, unlike cold viruses, which primarily spread by direct contact when people touch surfaces that had been touched by someone with a cold or shake hands with someone who is infected.
the virus changes so quickly that the body is rarely prepared for the next season’s strain. The antibodies we’ve built up can no longer recognise the virus – so we lose our immunity. It also makes it harder to develop effective vaccines so some might find even though taking the flu jab is not enough to ward off these pesky viruses.
Prevention is always better than cure so here are a few ways to avoid colds and flu this winter:
WASH HANDS: especially in the office space when there is another ‘infected’ person, you want to try and sanitise common areas used.
KEEP MOVING : Don’t underestimate the importance of regular activity, especially in winter. Apart from keeping our circulation going, regular moderate exercise increases the number of natural killer (NK) cells in our bodies. These lymphocytes in the bloodstream and the mucosal layer of the nose and airways travel around our bodies scavenging foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. When you exercise, NK levels go up and stay elevated for about 36 hours afterwards. However, if you exercise too much, this will actually lower levels of NK cells.
PROBIOTICS: Studies have shown that taking probiotic supplements can improve the body’s resistance to bacterial and viral infections. Probiotics aids the Peyer’s patches (small masses of lymphatic tissue found in the small intestine) which form an important part of the immune system by monitoring intestinal bacteria populations and preventing the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the intestines.
STAY HYDRATED: Drinking ginger tea with lemon and raw honey as well as breathing in steam stimulates the cilia (the hair follicles in the nose) to move out germs more efficiently. Lemon thins mucus, and honey is antibacterial.
Other supplementation to consider: