Here’s a question from a reader:
Dear Dr. Prescott,
Can you address the notion of this virus going away as we move from spring into summer? Will hot weather make it go away? And if so, is it likely to reappear in the fall and winter again?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
Unfortunately, like almost about everything about this virus that was first identified only three months ago, we just don’t know.
While influenza disappears in the summertime, there’s no data to suggest that COVID-19 will. Our bodies have no natural immunity to this new virus, so we’re all vulnerable, no matter the weather.
The arrival of summer isn’t what stopped SARS, which is from the same viral family. And hot temperatures don’t seem to affect MERS, another viral cousin of COVID-19.
It’s true that countries in the Southern Hemisphere haven’t seen the same number of COVID-19 cases as those in cooler climes. But past pandemics have taken time to reach all around the world, and that may be the case here.
Health experts also believe those countries are testing less aggressively for the virus. With symptoms so closely paralleling those of flu and other communicable diseases, detection may be an issue.
Behavior could play a role, too. In warmer environments, people spend more time in the open air and are more spread apart. So, the virus – even if present – would be less likely to jump from person to person or spread indirectly through surfaces or objects touched by many.
It’s possible that these behavioral factors, along with social distancing and personal isolation, could slow the spread of the virus as temperatures climb this spring and summer. But even if that happens, most experts predict it won’t spell the end of the virus.
In the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, cases abated with the arrival of summer, only to come roaring back in the fall when temperatures dropped again.
The development of an effective vaccine to prevent the virus represents our most concrete and realistic hope of stopping this virus. With clinical trials in humans beginning this past week, we are moving in the right direction.