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Why Does Flu Season Exist?

Every year, like clockwork, flu season starts and affects a significant number of people worldwide. But what triggers this annual event? Learn why the flu season exists, when it starts and how to protect yourself with these tips.

Woman sick with a cold

What Is Flu Season?

Flu season is a recurring event that typically takes place during the colder months of the year. As you’ve probably noticed, there is a sizeable increase in the number of flu cases every fall. This pattern isn’t random but is caused by the behavior of the influenza virus and certain environmental factors that help it spread.1

When Is Flu Season?

Flu season starts during the colder months, typically early fall, and often peaks during winter. The ability of the flu virus to survive and spread more efficiently in cold, dry air is a big reason why flu season begins when the temperatures drop. In addition, the way we behave during colder weather, which often involves increased indoor gatherings and more close contact, can also help the flu spread more efficiently.1

The relationship between the flu virus and the environment is an important factor in the timing of flu outbreaks. Cold temperatures help the virus survive on surfaces and in the air, making it more stable and enhancing its ability to spread. In addition, the winter environment, which causes decreased humidity, creates conditions where respiratory droplets can stay suspended in the air for longer periods, potentially helping the virus spread.1

What Causes Flu Season?

The timing of the flu season is significantly influenced by the environment and human behavior. These two factors combine during the colder months to create an environment that makes it easier for the flu virus to thrive and spread, resulting in the increase in flu cases every year.1

Cold temperatures and lower humidity facilitate the survival and transmission of respiratory droplets carrying the virus, particularly in environments with increased indoor gatherings during the colder months. These factors collectively contribute to the surge in flu cases known as flu season.1

How to Prepare for the Flu Season

Being prepared is the best way to tackle the flu season. Here are some measures you can take to prevent the spread of the virus:2

  • Get Vaccinated: Don’t forget to get the annual flu vaccine. Vaccination significantly lowers your risk of contracting the flu and lessens its severity if you do get sick.
  • Practice Good Hygiene: Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after being in public places. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze to prevent the spread of droplets.
  • Support Your Immune System: Maintain a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, quality sleep, regular exercise and stress management. This makes your body less susceptible to getting sick.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up to date with news about the flu activity in your area and follow any advice from health officials.

When Should You Get the Flu Shot?

Timing is key when it comes to getting the flu shot for it to be the most effective. Experts suggest getting the flu vaccine by the end of October, ideally before the flu starts spreading in your area. While it’s important to get the flu shot early in the season, it’s never too late to get vaccinated. The vaccine takes about two weeks to offer full protection, so it’s best to get it before the flu becomes widespread. This allows your body enough time to build the necessary antibodies to fight the virus.3

By getting vaccinated early, you’re not only protecting yourself but also helping to protect others in your community, especially those who are more at risk. It’s strongly advised to get the flu shot every year, preferably before the flu season starts, so you’re protected against the current strain of the virus.3

Remember, the best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year. It’s also important to practice good hygiene and avoid close contact with people who are sick. By staying informed and taking preventive measures, you can stay healthy during the flu season.

Source Citations:

  1. The Reason for the Season: why flu strikes in winter. Harvard University. Accessed 11/2/23.
  2. 6 Tips To Prep for Flu Season. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 11/2/23.
  3. Why You Need a Flu Shot (and When To Get It). Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 11/2/23.
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