Want to Protect Yourself From Getting the Flu? Get Some Sunshine

From TIME - March 2, 2018

By now, you probably know the tried-and-true flu prevention strategies: get vaccinated, wash your hands often and try to steer clear of folks who are sick. But new research says there may be another way to stay healthy, and it begins before flu season is even in full swing.

Spending more time in the sun in August and September, and thus absorbing more immune-system-boosting vitamin D, may help prevent the flu as fall progresses, according to a new working paper distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research. A state that sees an unusually high number of sunny days in a given month, the paper says, can also expect to see an unusually low number of flu cases during that time period.

The largest reduction is seen in September (and October, to a lesser extent), when sunlight and influenza are both relatively common, explains paper co-author David Slusky, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Kansas.

The sun provides some flu protection throughout the year, Slusky says, But if you test each month one at a time, the only one of statistical significance is really September. You need to have enough sunlight and flu variation. That really only happens in the early fall, late summer.

Using flu data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and weather data from the North American Land Data Assimilation System, the researchers calculated that if a state saw a 10% increase in September sunlight, it could also expect a three-point drop on the CDCs flu severity index for that month. And while September may not be the peak of flu season, the paper says a decrease that significant would have meant roughly 29,500 fewer cases of the flu over the course of Septembers 2009, 2010 and 2011.


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