Like Flu, COVID-19 May Turn Out to Be Seasonal

TUESDAY, February 2, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Like the flu, could COVID-19 change to increase and decrease with the seasons? New research suggests it’s possible.

At the start of the pandemic, some experts suggested that SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – could behave like many other coronaviruses that circulate more widely in the fall and winter.

To find out if this might be true, researchers analyzed data from COVID-19 – including cases, death rates, recoveries, testing rates and hospitalizations – from 221 countries. Investigators found a strong association with temperature and latitude.

“One conclusion is that the disease can be seasonal, like the flu. This is very relevant to what we should expect from now on after the vaccine controls these first waves of COVID-19,” Gustavo said. Caetano-Anollés, lead author of the study. He is a professor at the CR Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The same research team previously identified areas of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome undergoing rapid mutation.

Similar viruses have seasonal increases in mutation rates, so researchers looked for links between SARS-CoV-2 mutations and temperature, latitude and longitude.

“Our results suggest that the virus evolves at its own pace and that mutations are affected by factors other than temperature or latitude. We don’t know exactly what these factors are, but we can now say that the seasonal effects are independent of the genetic makeup of the virus, ”Caetano-Anollés said in an academic press release.

More research is needed to learn more about how the climate and different seasons can affect COVID-19 rates, the team added.

The study’s authors suggested that people’s immune systems might play a role. The immune system can be influenced by temperature and nutrition, including vitamin D, which plays an important role in immunity. With less exposure to the sun during the winter, most people don’t produce enough vitamin D.

“We know the flu is seasonal and we have a summer break. This gives us a chance to make the flu vaccine for the following fall,” said Caetano-Anollés. “When we are still in the midst of a raging pandemic, that pause is non-existent. Perhaps learning how to strengthen our immune systems could help fight disease as we struggle to catch up with the ever-evolving coronavirus.”

The study was published online Jan. 26 in the journal Evolutionary bioinformatics.

More information

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.

SOURCE: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, press release, January 27, 2021

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