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Influenza Virus Transmission Is Dependent on Relative Humidity and Temperature
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  • Description:
    In temperate regions influenza epidemics recur with marked seasonality: in the northern hemisphere the influenza season spans November to March, while in the southern hemisphere epidemics last from May until September. Although seasonality is one of the most familiar features of influenza, it is also one of the least understood. Indoor crowding during cold weather, seasonal fluctuations in host immune responses, and environmental factors, including relative humidity, temperature, and UV radiation have all been suggested to account for this phenomenon, but none of these hypotheses has been tested directly. Using the guinea pig model, we have evaluated the effects of temperature and relative humidity on influenza virus spread. By housing infected and naïve guinea pigs together in an environmental chamber, we carried out transmission experiments under conditions of controlled temperature and humidity. We found that low relative humidities of 20%–35% were most favorable, while transmission was completely blocked at a high relative humidity of 80%. Furthermore, when guinea pigs were kept at 5 °C, transmission occurred with greater frequency than at 20 °C, while at 30 °C, no transmission was detected. Our data implicate low relative humidities produced by indoor heating and cold temperatures as features of winter that favor influenza virus spread.

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  • Funding:
    U01CI000354-01/CI/NCPDCID CDC HHS/United States
    UC19 AI062623-023/AI/NIAID NIH HHS/United States
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