Flu risk rises sharply as early winter storms lash Western and Central US; doctors warn of other respiratory infections too
Midwest regions, including Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, are likely to have their first snowfall of the year
Winter storms typical of January are already lashing parts of Western and Central US experiencing unusually cold weather conditions.
"A wave of Arctic air has infiltrated the northern tier of the United States this week, shattering record lows, and threatening as many as 70 (other record lows) through Halloween," according to AccuWeather.
On Tuesday, the Denver area was covered with nine inches of snow and Denver International Airport was blanketed with nearly six inches. The storm could leave anywhere from 6-12 inches of snow on the ground, according to the National Weather Service in Denver.
Other regions will also see back-to-back storm systems as they move from the Central Rockies and Plains up through the Great Lakes.
Midwest region, including Iowa, southern Minnesota, northern Missouri, northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, is likely to have its first snowfall of the year.
Chicago is also likely to experience an early winter. "There have been six instances in Chicago's history where snow has fallen on Halloween, with the only date of measurable snow being on Halloween in 2014," the National Weather Service in Chicago said.
This time, Chicago celebrated Halloween with 3.4 inches of snow that fell at O’Hare International Airport, the city’s official recording station. It shattered the daily record for October 31 of 0.1 inches set in 2014, the National Weather Service tweeted.
Besides snowfall, Chicago also had to embrace strong winds and 8- to 12-foot waves along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Cook County.
Early winters brings with it a spate of flu cases. Winters in the US and other countries with temperate climates are associated with a sharp rise in cases of respiratory infections.
During winters, people stay indoors, allowing viruses to pass more easily from one person to another. And the cold, dry air may weaken an individual's resistance towards infections.
Flu infects about 10 percent of the population each year. The percentage can rise to 25 or 30 percent in an epidemic year. For comparison, adults in the United States average two to four colds per year, and children six to eight, as reported by Scientific American.
When people get infected with the flu, they experience a sudden onset of feverishness which may reach 100 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a sore throat and nasal discharge, chills, headache, muscle aches and loss of appetite. If the flu is mild, they will start showing signs of recovery after five to seven days but may take up to two weeks or even longer to recover completely.
Flu can lead to serious complications, including bronchitis, viral or bacterial pneumonia and even death in elderly and chronically ill patients. Twenty-thousand or more people die of flu in the US. each year.
The reason why flu cases spike in winter is not clearly known. Close contact with people which is common during winters is suspected to be the reason: when infected individuals sneeze or cough, the virus present in these secretions can land on the next victim.
Other illnesses that show up in winter are common cold, bronchitis, whooping cough and pneumonia.