Chilly temperatures, dreary skies, and unpredictable weather: Some years, winter seems to drag on and on. The season can feel especially dismal if you’ve come down with a cold or the flu. Of course, you can get sick any time of the year, but why does the flu always seem to strike in the dead of winter? Read on if you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why is flu season in winter?”
Why Is Flu Season in Winter?
Flu Season Basics
What is the flu, anyway? The flu is a virus – a microscopic infection that invades your body’s individual cells. Flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms, often including fever, body aches, and even some gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies late October as the beginning of flu season, with cases typically peaking anywhere between December and February and ending in March. However, flu season has been known to last until May in some years.
Why Winter Temperatures Matter
Flu season takes place during the colder months for a reason. Some studies have shown that the influenza virus survives better in colder, drier climates, making it easier for the virus to transfer from person to person. Outside of winter temperatures, days are also shorter during the chilly months. The lack of sunlight during these months can lead to low levels of vitamin D and melatonin, both of which are important components in immune support. A compromised immune system makes it hard to fight off the flu virus. Finally, the flu virus may circulate more easily when people are in close quarters – for example, a warm home, school, office, or even retirement community with the windows sealed. In close quarters, you will often breathe the same air as those around you, which can cause the virus to transfer from person to person.
Protecting Yourself from the Flu
As you enter your golden years, it becomes critically important to protect yourself from the flu. Adults age 65 and older are at risk for complications associated with the flu, as are people with some long-term health conditions like diabetes or heart disease. People who live in long-term care facilities like retirement homes are also at higher risk of contracting the illness. Your first step to protect yourself from the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. If you don’t get the vaccine by the beginning of flu season, it’s not necessarily too late. During flu season, you should also stay away from people who are sick with the flu and wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Finally, try to avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes. Touching your face can leave you vulnerable to germs.
So, why is flu season in winter? The combination of cold temperatures, shorter days, and lots of time spent indoors can lead to a worrisome number of flu cases. Flu season can be especially serious for people in their golden years, so if you haven’t already gotten your flu shot, remember that it’s not too late.
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