H1N1 May Hit Parts of the U.S. Harder than Others

By: By Alex Sosnowski Accuweather.com
By: By Alex Sosnowski Accuweather.com

AccuWeather.com would like to review some of our findings that the weather may play in the harboring and spread of H1N1 and other influenza, based in part by the long range winter forecast for 2009-2010.

Based on continued activity of H1N1 in the southern hemisphere in recent weeks, health and government officials are concerned about the upcoming fall and winter in the United States.

H1N1 has proved that it has staying power by continuing to infect significant numbers of people in multiple countries during May, June and July.

As kids return to school and the weather turns cooler over the U.S. this fall, officials are urging communities, schools, businesses and households to take precautions.

AccuWeather.com's Long Range Expert, Joe Bastardi is expecting a cold winter for much of the South and the Northeast this winter. Wetter than average conditions are expected along much of the Atlantic Seaboard. While normal precipitation is expected in California and the Southwest, that may imply a wetter winter for parts of that region than recent years.

Since early in 2009, Bastardi has been forecasting an El Niño for this fall and into this winter. The forecasted weather for the nation this winter is based on the expected presence and strength of El Niño at that time.

Colder and/or stormier conditions could raise people's risk of contracting H1N1 or other influenza. If Bastardi's winter weather forecast is correct, the projected winter for 2009-10 could have more people in the South and the Northeast indoors for longer periods of time than average this winter.

When the weather is cold or stormy outside, people tend to spend much less time outdoors. The longer you are indoors with an infected person, the greater the chance of contracting that cold or flu. Be sure to get frequent fresh air breaks even during the winter months, avoid getting run down or chilled and get plenty of rest.

There are some studies that suggest that influenza has greater survivability in cool, dry air. Very low humidity may increase the risk of upper respiratory infections, due to the mucus membranes drying out. The mucus membranes are the body's first line of defense for fighting infection. Humidity levels in the home, school or business can drop to very low levels, even during rainy or snowy conditions.

Be sure to keep indoor humidity levels at comfortable levels in your home this winter. A humidifier may be necessary or keep a full pot of water on top of your wood or coal burning stove.

Lower vitamin D levels found in the population in the winter months could also be a contributor contracting the flu. Normal levels of Vitamin D contribute to a good immune system. Your skin produces Vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays. A lack of exposure to these rays could ultimately lower the Vitamin D level in your body with time. The sun angle is generally too low in the dead of the winter to generate significant UV rays in northern (and southern) latitudes. Make sure your intake of Vitamin D is adequate. Consult your doctor before taking any vitamin supplements.

The main suspected cause of the spread of H1N1, influenza and colds in general is hand to hand, hand to eye, hand to nose and hand to mouth contact. Wash your hands frequently, especially after handling phone, keyboards, etc. Avoid going to work, school, public events and using mass transportation if you suspect you have the flu. Be sure to thoroughly cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and promptly discard used tissues. Avoid hand to hand contact if you have flu-like symptoms.

Joe Bastardi and AccuWeather.com will have more on the long range winter weather forecast next week.

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