Humidity and respiratory virus transmission in tropical and temperate settings

Epidemiol Infect. 2015 Apr;143(6):1110-8. doi: 10.1017/S0950268814002702. Epub 2014 Oct 13.


Influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are similarly structured viruses with similar environmental survival, but different routes of transmission. While RSV is transmitted predominantly by direct and indirect contact, influenza is also transmitted by aerosol. The cold, dry conditions of temperate winters appear to encourage the transmission of both viruses, by increasing influenza virus survival in aerosols, and increasing influenza and RSV survival on surfaces. In contrast, the hot, wet conditions of tropical rainy seasons appear to discourage aerosol transmission of influenza, by reducing the amount of influenza virus that is aerosolized, and probably also by reducing influenza survival in aerosol. The wet conditions of tropical rainy seasons may, however, encourage contact transmission of both viruses, by increasing the amount of virus that is deposited on surfaces, and by increasing virus survival in droplets on surfaces. This evidence suggests that the increased incidence of influenza and RSV in tropical rainy seasons may be due to increased contact transmission. This hypothesis is consistent with the observation that tropical rainy seasons appear to encourage the transmission of RSV more than influenza. More research is required to examine the environmental survival of respiratory viruses in the high humidity and temperature of the tropics.

Keywords: respiratory syncytial virus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Climate*
  • Humans
  • Humidity*
  • Influenza, Human / transmission*
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • Orthomyxoviridae / physiology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / transmission*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / virology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Viruses / physiology
  • Temperature
  • Tropical Climate* / adverse effects