In October, you gear up for flu season. You get a flu shot, bundle up, and maybe carry baby wipes with you to keep your hands extra clean. But the flu is only one type of bug—and new research from Columbia University suggests that a variety of infections can peak at different times of the year.
“Seasonality is a powerful and universal feature of infectious diseases,” reports Micaela Martinez, PhD, a scientist at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, in a press release, “although the scientific community has largely ignored it for the majority of infections.”
Over the course of a year, Martinez studied the peaks and valleys of various viruses and their infection rates. Her results, published in the online medical journal PLOS, confirms the prevalence of flu season in the winter, but she also found that chickenpox is at its peak in the spring. Infections such as polio and gonorrhea were most commonly transmitted in the summer months. Hepatitis B is at its worst during late summer and fall; genital herpes infections peak in the spring and summer and are lowest in winter. Around the world, infectious diseases followed a seasonal trend, such as dengue fever cases rising during rainy seasons, while hepatitis A cases were highest in the dry season. Here are the 9 most dangerous diseases in the world.
After further analysis, Martinez found several ways an infection’s potency could rise or fall seasonally, from people crowding together indoors (for the flu) to temperatures or weather being favorable to a virus or bacteria spread. The research can help public health officials prepare people, though further research will be helpful in understanding how best to protect people, says Martinez. “Much work is needed to understand the forces driving disease seasonality and understand how we can leverage seasonality to design interventions to prevent outbreaks and treat chronic infections,” she notes. Next, find out the 13 lifesaving medical tests you’re probably skipping—but shouldn’t.