Why Flu Virus Thrives in Winter
Cold Temperatures Pave the Way for Influenza Virus to Spread
March 3, 2008 -- Scientists may have found a chink in the armor of the flu
virus. Their discovery may lead to new flu treatments.
Researchers today reported that in winter, even the flu virus wears a coat,
and it's a coat that helps the virus spread through the air. Tinkering with
that coat might disarm the flu virus.
"Now that we understand how the flu virus protects itself so that it can
spread form person to person, we can work on ways to interfere with that
protective mechanism," Duane Alexander, MD, director of the National
Institute on Child Health and Human Development, says in a news release.
Here's a quick look at the new findings on the influenza virus.
Scientists found that in cold temperatures, the flu virus forms a hard
coating that acts like an envelope, helping the virus spread through cold air
and then melting inside people to do its dirty work.
"Like an M&M in your mouth, the protective covering melts when it
enters the respiratory tract," Joshua Zimmerberg, PhD, chief of the
cellular and molecular biophysics lab at the National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development (NICHD) says in a news release. "It's only in this
liquid phase that the virus is capable of entering a cell to infect
In warmer temperatures, that coating doesn't form. So it's harder for the
influenza virus to spread through warm air.
Zimmerberg and colleagues report their findings in today's advance online
edition of Nature Chemical Biology.