Doctors explore role of humidity as Texas flu outbreak reaches historic heights


AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As the flu outbreak reaches record levels in Texas, doctors in the state are exploring how humidity may contribute to the spread of viruses.

Harvard research indicates lower humidity, which is common during winter months, allows viruses to spread more easily because the change in air moisture may reduce the ability of our immune systems to fight back.

“Early research being conducted in a number of places has shown that keeping your humidity in optimal range between 40% and 60% can limit the spread of viral illnesses and other illnesses as well,” Dr. Devry Anderson, associate chief medical officer at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, said.

“We are still looking into this— initial studies are still new, so it is still a high-level discussion, but definitely something to consider and something that we are considering,” Dr. Anderson added.

Some companies around the country, like DriSteem, are pitching commercial humidifier services specifically to schools and offices.

Installing a humidifier is one simple way to boost the humidity, but experts suggest not going too much higher than 60% either.

In addition to promoting extra hand-washing and disinfecting practices, some school districts in West Texas are combating germs by bringing in professional cleaning crews to deep-clean as kids head back to class.

“Those flu viruses can live for a long time on those surfaces, so it is good to give them a good cleaning,” Dr. Jennifer Shuford, infectious disease medical officer at the Texas Dept of State Health Services, said.

State health officials said flu-related doctor visits have hit the highest point in the last decade. 16% of doctor visits in Texas are related to flu-like symptoms.

Dr. Shuford said it’s not too late to get vaccinated for the current flu season.

“What we are hoping though is that this is truly the peak of flu season and that it does not continue to rise or stay high for a very long time,” Dr. Shuford said.

If you think you have the flu, you’re encouraged to contact your primary care physician, rather than make an emergency room visit, as some ERs are being overcrowded with flu patients.

“Most people presenting with the flu can be treated in other venues,” Dr. Anderson said. “They can be treated by your primary care doctor, in a primary care office, or at an urgent care.”

“I would advise if you are not experiencing the shaking, chills, high spiking fevers, the overall malaise, but you feel like you may be getting sick, I would advise that you go to your primary care office or one of our urgent care facilities in your areas if you want to be treated,” Dr. Anderson suggested.

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