Coronavirus is testing Brit’s deep-seated optimism that everything will “blow over” and we will “muddle through”. Yesterday saw the biggest daily rise in fatalities yet, recording 381 deaths. Compounding the general public’s grievances is the necessary but restrictive lockdown measures imposed by the UK government.
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To make matters worse, the weather is improving, which makes the daily constraints on going outside even more insufferable.
However, there is a reason to be cheery about the weather outlook, according to a study published in the preprint journal Wellcome Open.
Tracking cases of three coronaviruses, similar to the one that causes COVID-19, for five years, researchers at University College found the number of infections dipped around spring time, and didn’t peak again until winter.
Scientists said the heat, sunlight and humidity killed traces of coronaviruses, which include ones that cause the common cold.
How did they arrive at these findings?
The research team at UCL, led by Dr Robert Aldridge, used data from the Flu Watch community cohort study.
It tracked cases of various influenzas and three coronaviruses – HCoV-NL63, HCoV-OC43, and HCoV-229E – between 2006 and 2011.
The participants were randomly selected from GP practice lists in England, and all household members were invited to join.
Study participants were contacted weekly to report any symptoms of respiratory illnesses and sent in swabs if they felt unwell.
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Some 1,104 swabs were analysed for respiratory illnesses, which gave a rough estimate of infection rates among the population.
Researchers found that across all seasons, the rate of coronaviruses was 390 per 100,000 ‘person-weeks’.
It was highest in February, at 759 per 100,000, before easing off around March time.
Then, from May to August, cases plummeted close to zero per 100,000, with an outbreak around June time, showing that transmission was still possible during these months.
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Cases gradually rose from November onwards, when the UK moves into the winter months.
While the findings are encouraging, experts acknowledge that COVID-19 is a new strain of virus, so it is unclear whether it will conform to the same pattern.
As they point out, humid weather did not shield countries in Asia from the virus, and therefore it may be “unlikely” the virus will ease off in the UK by summer.
Commenting on their findings, the researchers wrote: “Our study shows that HCoV appears to follow a seasonal pattern in England, with peaks occurring during winter seasons and broadly at the same time as Influenza.”
Co-author of the study, Ellen Fragaszy, of UCL Institute of Health Informatics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “In temperate regions, many respiratory viruses follow a seasonal pattern, with winter peaks during the ‘cold and flu season’.
“We believe this seasonality is driven in part by environmental factors such as temperature, humidity and sunlight which affect both virus survival and how well our immune systems can respond to these infections.
“Seasonality is also likely to be driven by our own behaviours, such as our tendency, when it’s cold, to spend more time indoors with the windows shut and in close contact with other people.”
Dr Aldridge said: “Our findings support the idea that, in the UK, we could see continued but lower levels of coronavirus transmission in the summer.
“But this may reverse in the winter if there is still a large susceptible population at that point.”
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