Flu lasts longer in larger cities, experts say

The duration of a flu season and strain of flu virus responsible for infections vary based on a city's size and structure, according to a study published by Science.

Here are four things to know:

1. Researchers analyzed data on ZIP codes in relation to reported flu cases for 603 U.S. cities from 2002-08.

2. Some Zip codes experienced sharp peaks of flu cases or intense epidemics, while others had a longer and more diffused influenza season.

3. Flu cases in small cities occurred over a short period of time, showing less populated places see a surge of intense cases that quickly die out. Larger cities saw a longer duration of flu cases. Also, specific humidity did not affect flu transmission as much in larger cities.

"The flu is able to spread under a wider envelop of climatic conditions in the metropolises, because of highly organized movement patterns that put people into such close proximity that the specific humidity starts to matter less," Benjamin Dalziel, PhD, assistant professor in the department of integrative biology at Corvallis-based Oregon State University, told STAT"In metropolises, flu is able to eke out a living because there’s more highly organized close contact."

4. The findings of the study suggest a universal approach to flu season does not work, according to STAT.

"Small centers should improve their ability to handle surge capacity, while larger cities should find new ways to reduce flu transmission," Jacco Wallinga, an expert on infectious diseases modeling at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, told STAT.

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