A warmer winter could be good for your health

Temperatures aren't the only factor determining how the flu spreads throughout a community. People need to take precautions even with a warmer-than-expected winter

Environment Canada said much of the country will experience an above-seasonal temperature trend this winter

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With the anticipation of a warmer winter season on the horizon for most of Canada, theories abound about whether people will be more susceptible to catching the flu.

Environment Canada said much of the country will experience an above-seasonal temperature trend this winter.

If Environment Canada's predictions are accurate, most of Canada could be in for a mild winter this year, which has some people worried the warmer weather will increase the spread of cold and flu viruses.

Some on Facebook believe the flu season will be worse with warmer weather, but that may not be true. (Facebook)

But that theory doesn't hold true, say health officials who turn to scientific research that shows flu viruses live longer in colder temperatures.

"Every time the temperature is getting down, which is meaning the temperature is getting colder, the virus's ability to survive in that environment increases," said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, associate medical officer for Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

"If the temperatures are milder, then it goes in the opposite direction and viruses don't tend to survive longer in the environmen." Ahmed said. 

Temperature, though, isn't the only factor dictating how the flu will spread throughout a community. People tend to be a bit more careless when it comes to hand hygiene in warmer weather, Ahmed explained.

"Human behaviour is the most important," he said. "If it's warmer weather...then they tend to be a little bit careless in their own personal behaviour that can lead to the spread of the bug in the community."

Warmer weather and less snow means people will be more likely to shop, go out and go to parties during the holiday season — all things that mean more people in more places.

Pharmacists tackle the flu

Pharmacist Timothy Brady recognizes flu viruses live longer in cooler temperatures, but he too says human behaviour will trump all other factors this flu season.

"It doesn't really have as much to do with the viruses," he said. "When the weather's a bit nicer, you're more apt to go around and actually mingle with other people. And because of that, with people not taking precautions among other things, they're usually more prone to spread colds."

One of the best advancements in the fight against the flu was letting pharmacists give people flu shots, Brady said. Changing the regulations several years ago has made the vaccine easier to access.

"We've seen a major increase in the amount of people coming to get them," he said. "Hopefully, with more people getting the shot itself, the virus will spread less."

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, Health Canada says you can also protect yourself and those around you from the flu by:

  • Washing your hands frequently.
  • Coughing and sneezing into the bend of your arm, not into your hand.
  • Avoiding touching your nose, mouth or eyes with your hands.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that a lot of people touch, such as doorknobs, phones and TV remotes.
  • Eating healthy foods and doing physical activities to keep your immune system strong
  • getting plenty of rest or sleep

If you do get sick, stay home and avoid contact with other people until your symptoms are gone. This will help prevent the spread of the virus.


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