Coronavirus seasonality, respiratory infections and weather

G. L. Nichols*, E. L. Gillingham, H. L. Macintyre, S. Vardoulakis, S. Hajat, C. E. Sarran, D. Amankwaah, R. Phalkey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: The survival of coronaviruses are influenced by weather conditions and seasonal coronaviruses are more common in winter months. We examine the seasonality of respiratory infections in England and Wales and the associations between weather parameters and seasonal coronavirus cases. 

Methods: Respiratory virus disease data for England and Wales between 1989 and 2019 was extracted from the Second-Generation Surveillance System (SGSS) database used for routine surveillance. Seasonal coronaviruses from 2012 to 2019 were compared to daily average weather parameters for the period before the patient’s specimen date with a range of lag periods. 

Results: The seasonal distribution of 985,524 viral infections in England and Wales (1989–2019) showed coronavirus infections had a similar seasonal distribution to influenza A and bocavirus, with a winter peak between weeks 2 to 8. Ninety percent of infections occurred where the daily mean ambient temperatures were below 10 °C; where daily average global radiation exceeded 500 kJ/m2/h; where sunshine was less than 5 h per day; or where relative humidity was above 80%. Coronavirus infections were significantly more common where daily average global radiation was under 300 kJ/m2/h (OR 4.3; CI 3.9–4.6; p < 0.001); where average relative humidity was over 84% (OR 1.9; CI 3.9–4.6; p < 0.001); where average air temperature was below 10 °C (OR 6.7; CI 6.1–7.3; p < 0.001) or where sunshine was below 4 h (OR 2.4; CI 2.2–2.6; p < 0.001) when compared to the distribution of weather values for the same time period. Seasonal coronavirus infections in children under 3 years old were more frequent at the start of an annual epidemic than at the end, suggesting that the size of the susceptible child population may be important in the annual cycle. 

Conclusions: The dynamics of seasonal coronaviruses reflect immunological, weather, social and travel drivers of infection. Evidence from studies on different coronaviruses suggest that low temperature and low radiation/sunlight favour survival. This implies a seasonal increase in SARS-CoV-2 may occur in the UK and countries with a similar climate as a result of an increase in the R0 associated with reduced temperatures and solar radiation. Increased measures to reduce transmission will need to be introduced in winter months for COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1101
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Volume21
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The research was funded in part by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Environmental Change and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), and in collaboration with the University of Exeter, University College London, and the Met Office; the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for the MEDMI Project (https://www.data-mashup.org.uk). The NIHR HPRU-2 in Environmental Change and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and University College London is also supporting this work. NIHR had no role in the design of the study and collection, analysis, and interpretation of data or in writing the manuscript.

Open Access: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s).

Citation: Nichols, G.L., Gillingham, E.L., Macintyre, H.L. et al. Coronavirus seasonality, respiratory infections and weather. BMC Infect Dis 21, 1101 (2021).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12879-021-06785-2

Keywords

  • Children
  • Climate
  • Coronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Pandemic
  • Respiratory viruses
  • Seasonality
  • Surveillance
  • Virus survival
  • Weather

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