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As we move from a mild winter to a warmer spring, the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic may significantly depend on levels of humidity — indoors and outdoors — a new review suggests. All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub and follow our live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 outbreak.
How dry air affects immunity, viral spread
"It is assumed that temperature and humidity modulate the viability of viruses by affecting the properties of viral surface proteins and lipid membrane" [source]
First, they say that when cold, dry air comes indoors and is warmed, the relative humidity indoors drops by about 20%. Such a drop in humidity makes it easier for airborne viral particles to travel. Second, the hair-like organelles outside of cells that line the body’s airways, called cilia, do not function as well in dry conditions — they cannot expel viral particles as well as they otherwise would. For instance, the new review cites one study that found that mice in an environment with 10% relative humidity had impaired clearance of the influenza virus, compared with mice in an environment with 50% relative humidity. Furthermore, studies have shown that “Dry air exposure of mice impairs epithelial cell repair in the lung after influenza virus infection,” according to the new analysis.
40–60% humidity is ideal
“That’s why I recommend humidifiers during the winter in buildings,” says the study’s senior author. Other studies in mice also found that an environment of 50% relative humidity contributed to good viral clearance and an efficient immune response.
Humidifiers are home essential devices that put moisture back into the air, which can create a lot of benefits for you and your family. If the air in your home is too dry, one solution is to use a humidifier. Humidifiers are devices that emit water vapor to help keep the air in a room moist. They not only adds moisture to the room, but also helps in settling dust particles and thereby improving the quality of the air.
Very dry and very humid air can affect your health as you may experience worsened respiratory conditions like allergies and asthma, and poor skin health.
A 2013 study, showed that increasing humidity levels to 43 percent or above significantly reduced the ability of airborne viruses to cause flu infections. In fact, in a low humidity environment, 70-77 percent of viruses could transmit the disease through coughs, but when humidity was increased to 43 percent or more, that number dropped to only 14 percent.
An earlier 2009 study showed similar results, with humidity limiting the transmission of the influenza virus.
Getting a humidifier may help you avoid getting sick this winter, but it can also give you softer, more glowing skin.