Sunday, March 2, 2008

Flu season

I love science. It's like an irritating kid that won't stop asking 'why'? Just when you start getting really annoyed you realize that the kid has a good question.

Why is winter 'flu season'? Well the conventional explanation is that it's because we all crowd together inside buildings in winter and so pass the virus around more easily. Except that clearly isn't the case in places like California and there isn't much evidence for it in many other places although it may be a factor sometimes.

It turns out that until recently we really didn't have a good explanation. Until this week.

Influenza viruses coat themselves in fatty material that hardens and protects them in colder temperatures -- a finding that could explain why winter is the flu season, U.S. researchers reported on Sunday.
In warmer outdoor temperatures this protective coating melts, and unless it is inside a living person or animal, the virus perishes.
"Like an M&M in your mouth, the protective covering melts when it enters the respiratory tract," said Joshua Zimmerberg of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), who led the study.

I should have saved this for week 10 when we cover influenza but I know I'd forget.

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