The origin of flu season

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Mar 05, 2008
By dvm360.com staff

Want to know why the flu season comes every year? Why do doctors turn drowsy, team members feel terrible, and clients cough? Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have discovered that the flu virus only likes heat when it's in you.

It all has to do with the virus's outer shell. This external covering of lipids hardens at freezing temperatures but breaks down into liquid at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. When the flu virus makes its way from person to person and surface to surface in cold weather, it's protected by that stiff outer shell of gel. Then when it nestles into your warm body, it warms up and goes to work.

Joshua Zimmerberg, Ph.D., chief of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biophysics, has this analogy: "Like an M&M in your mouth, the protective covering melts when it enters the respiratory tract. It's only in this liquid phase that the virus is capable of entering a cell to infect it."

In warm weather, however, the outer gel breaks down before the virus settles in your nose or mouth, and leaves it vulnerable to the elements.

Researchers say this discovery may lead them to ways to fight the flu by disrupting the virus's membrane, or creating better detergents and soaps to hinder the spread of the virus. They say that in an area with a severe flu outbreak, it might pay to stay indoors in warmer temperatures when Jack Frost comes calling.

Hopefully a new generation's excuse during flu season won't become "I'm not sick, so I have to stay home and keep my flu virus's shell liquid.?