Both the Likelihood of your Getting the Flu and The Severity of Your Flu Increase With Outdoor and Indoor Air Pollution Levels
Air pollution affects both the likelihood and severity of flu. Based on a recent article by IQAir, as many as twenty percent of adults become sick with the flu in America each year. Just under a quarter of a million suffer flu related complications requiring hospitalization, and if you live an area with high levels of air pollution, you may run an even greater risk of getting sick with the flu, and with more severe symptoms.
The Link Between Breathing Air and the Flu:
1. Multiple studies have confirmed that elevated levels of air pollution increases the likelihood that you will become sick with influenza. Specific pollutants associated with an increase in influenza cases include PM10 particulates (including emissions from natural and miscellaneous sources which are fugitive dust [unpaved and paved roads], agricultural and forestry activities, wind erosion, wildfires and managed burning.), diesel exhaust, nitric oxides, sulfur dioxide and ozone.
According to the EPA major concerns for human health from exposure to PM-10 include: effects on breathing and respiratory systems, damage to lung tissue, cancer, and premature death. The elderly, children, and people with chronic lung disease, influenza, or asthma, are especially sensitive to the effects of particulate matter.
Researchers believe that such airborne pollution particles act as “condensation nuclei” to which virus droplets are drawn and attach to. These PM-10 particles – with viruses attached – remain airborne longer and allow the virus to travel much farther than the distance covered when you sneeze.
PM10 and other pollutants: A group of scientists in Hong Kong investigated the relationship between pollution levels and hospital admissions for asthma, pneumonia and influenza. They found the rate of admissions for these conditions increased when levels of nitrogen oxide, ozone and particulate matter (PM10) increased. The increased risk was highest for those 65 years of age and older – precisely the age range within which many Florida retirees find themselves.
Diesel exhaust: A group of scientists in the U.S. studied the effects of breathing diesel exhaust on the likelihood of getting sick after being exposed to the flu virus. After half of the group was exposed to diesel exhaust for two hours, subjects in the study were given a live flu vaccine and their responses were carefully measured. Viral RNA (viral replication) levels were significantly higher in those who breathed the diesel exhaust for two hours.
Based on this and other studies if you have the flu, high outdoor and indoor air pollution levels may make your symptoms worse. Remember that even paved and unpaved road dust, agricultural dust and chemicals count as PM-10 particulate matter.
Allergists say polluted air makes symptoms of the flu feel worse for those who are already sick. Pollution particles rub against the bronchial tubes and create inflammation and irritation similar to (and adding to) flu symptoms. This is especially apparent in high-pollution areas where pollution levels often peak during flu season.
Human cells respond to both pollutants and viruses by releasing chemicals called cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that serve as messengers for communications between the body’s cells. Cytokine is a general name; other names include lymphokine (cytokines made by lymphocytes), monokine (cytokines made by monocytes), chemokine (cytokines with chemotactic activities), and interleukin (cytokines made by one leukocyte and acting on other leukocytes). Cytokines may act on the cells that secrete them (autocrine action), on nearby cells (paracrine action), or in some instances on distant cells (endocrine action). There are both pro-inflammatory cytokines and anti-inflammatory cytokines. There is significant evidence showing that certain cytokines/chemokines are involved in not only the initiation but also the persistence of pathologic pain by directly activating nociceptive sensory neurons. Certain inflammatory cytokines are also involved in nerve-injury/inflammation-induced central sensitization, and are related to the development of contralateral hyperalgesia/allodynia. The chemicals are released by the body’s immune system, and cause inflammation and the release of fluids.
Three Precautionary Steps to take to Protect Yourself and Others During Flu Season:
The flu is a contagious disease that often leads to hospitalization and death in those over 65.
1. Take the time to get a flu vaccine. This is the most important step in protecting against flu viruses, and is recommended yearly.
2. Take everyday preventive action to stop the spread of germs. Along with hygienic steps, this also includes the use of a high-performance air purifier such as the IQAir HealthPro® Plus to remove airborne viruses.
3. Give your immune system a boost. Your immune system needs sufficient levels of zinc and other micronutrients to function effectively. Herbal supplements such as echinacea and probiotics may also help strengthen your body’s immune system.
The more you know about the flu, how it spreads, and how it can be treated, the better your chances to avoid becoming infected and spreading the flu to others. For more information on what to do if you get sick with the flu, visit the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/whattodo.htm