Absolute humidity and the seasonal onset of influenza in the continental United States

Jeffrey Shaman, Virginia E. Pitzer, Cécile Viboud, Bryan T. Grenfell, Marc Lipsitch

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434 Scopus citations


Much of the observed wintertime increase of mortality in temperate regions is attributed to seasonal influenza. A recent reanalysis of laboratory experiments indicates that absolute humidity strongly modulates the airborne survival and transmission of the influenza virus. Here, we extend these findings to the human population level, showing that the onset of increased wintertime influenza-related mortality in the United States is associated with anomalously low absolute humidity levels during the prior weeks. We then use an epidemiological model, in which observed absolute humidity conditions temper influenza transmission rates, to successfully simulate the seasonal cycle of observed influenza-related mortality. The model results indicate that direct modulation of influenza transmissibility by absolute humidity alone is sufficient to produce this observed seasonality. These findings provide epidemiological support for the hypothesis that absolute humidity drives seasonal variations of influenza transmission in temperate regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1000316
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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