Coronavirus alert: Deadly virus could rapidly spread in plummeting UK temperatures

Dr Omar Youssef, Medical Physiologist from University of Glasgow, speaking to, said: “We know epidemics of the influenza virus occur mainly in winter months, typically from December to March. Lab studies have found that viruses survive longer at low humidity and low temperatures. UV light rises after winter which helps destroy viruses by breaking the molecular bonds that hold their DNA together.

“In dry cold air – viruses can travel farther as they become airborne.

“During winter months people spend more time indoors and have closer contact with each other.

“While the virus is alive and in the air, people are more likely to breathe the same air as someone who has been infected and contract the virus.”

The medical physiologist, who has trained in immunology, added that the Chinese government will be hoping rising temperatures arrive in spring and the rise in humidity after March will see coronavirus rates fall dramatically

Viruses that cause influenza or milder coronavirus colds do tend to subside in warmer months because these types of viruses have what scientists refer to as “seasonality”.

But, Doctor Youssef warned: “There is no guarantee of seasonality with the coronavirus, as we have seen with MERS which started in high temperatures in Saudi Arabia.”

He explained the fact coronavirus took hold in Wuhan in the depths of winter adds to the evidence it could be influenced by the seasons, “making it more likely to follow a seasonal pattern and reduce dramatically after March”.

Ian Lipkin, director of the Columbia University’s Centre for Infection and Immunity, has been studying the novel coronavirus.

He told the National Geographic that sunlight, which is less abundant in winter, can also help break down viruses that have been transmitted to surfaces.

He said: “UV light breaks down nucleic acid. It almost sterilises surfaces.

“If you’re outside, it’s generally cleaner than inside simply because of that UV light.”

UV light is so effective at killing bacteria and viruses it’s often used in hospitals to sterilise equipment.


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Stuart Weston, a researcher at the University of Maryland, where COVID-19 is being actively studied told the National Geographic: “I hope it will show seasonality, but it’s hard to know.”

As of Tuesday morning, more than 80,000 coronavirus cases had been confirmed in 34 different countries, with experts saying the disease is likely to keep spreading.

The deadly virus is passed from person to person via physical contact, but can also exist on hard surfaces or in the cough of a sick person’s respiratory droplets.

Once outside a human body, external forces will cause the virus to deteriorate.

The alcohol in hand sanitiser, for example, breaks down these proteins and lipids, making the virus less stable and less likely to successfully cause an infection.

Research about why some viruses are seasonal has been largely centred around those that cause the flu, a disease long associated with winter months.

“Flu season” generally lasts from October to March or April.

The increase of coronavirus transmission rates as winter descends comes as the BBC warned of foul weather on Twitter, writing: “The weather will clump together at times to bring longer spells of rain, sleet, hail or snow. Potential for thunder and lightning too.”

It comes as the latest weather charts, which analyses the probability of snowfall, shows wintry conditions are on the way.

Through Wednesday evening and into Thursday Wxcharts showed Northern Ireland, northern England and the majority of Scotland turn red – suggesting snow will hit.

But, forecasters were quick to warn of a further system moving across the south of the country on Wednesday evening and into Thursday which could bring snow causing chaos during rush hour.

BBC Weather forecast Simon King wrote on Twitter: “We’re keeping an eye on a weather system moving across southern parts on Wednesday night / Thursday morning.

“While most here will get rain, there is a risk of it turning to snow even at low levels around rush hour. Stay tuned!”

Scientists have a number of theories for why flu is more prominent in winter months.

Some suggest it’s due to closer quarters — to escape the cold weather, people cluster indoors, where human-to-human transmission becomes more likely.

To understand why northern latitudes see an uptick in flu cases during winter, researchers have looked at how the virus spreads in different temperature and humidity levels.

And relatively recent research suggests that dry, cold air may also help viruses stay intact in the air or travel farther as they become airborne.

One of the first studies to test how environmental conditions affect viral transmission was published in 2007, and it looked at how influenza spread through guinea pigs infected in a lab.

High temperatures and in particular high humidity slowed the influenza spread, and at very high humidity levels, the virus stopped spreading completely. Warmer air holds more moisture, which prevents airborne viruses from travelling as far as they would in dry air.

In humid conditions, the small liquid droplets in a cough or sneeze gather more moisture as they’re expelled.

Eventually too heavy to stay airborne, they drop to the ground.

Studies outside the lab show similar results, though some tropical regions have more cases of flu during the rainy season, when people also cluster indoors.

Scientists hypothesise that low humidity, which often occurs in winter, might impair the function of the mucus in your nose, which your body uses to trap and expel foreign bodies like viruses or bacteria.

Cold, dry air can make that normally gooey mucus drier and less efficient at trapping a virus.

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