Contracting the flu is never an enjoyable experience, but this year, the havoc wreaked by the winter illness reached such heinous levels that it might have saved the orange juice industry (seriously). To figure out what’s going on, researchers have been studying how we can best protect ourselves and our coworkers from passing the flu back and forth, and a few new key findings emerged: Always get a flu shot (even if it doesn’t always work); a universal vaccine could hit the market in our lifetime; and smiling through your flu shot could make it even more effective. And now, a new (in-progress) study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that soaking in as much sun as you can over the summer is a great preventative measure against the flu—and therefore, states that see more sun also see fewer flu cases.
Basically, this happens because vitamin D boosts your immune system, which is why in the winter—when there’s less vitamin D to absorb, which explains the widespread seasonal vitamin D deficiency half of Americans experience—people are more susceptible to illness.
Researchers found that places that saw an uncharacteristically high number of sunny days had drastically lower incidences of the flu: A 10 percent increase in sunny days resulted in a three-point drop in the Centers for Disease Control’s flu severity index for the same time period.
During late summer and early fall—when there’s both sufficient quantities of sunlight and flu activity—the researchers identified places that saw an uncharacteristically high number of sunny days for the given month and season, then compared that weather data to flu data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They found that those places had drastically lower incidences of the flu: A 10 percent increase in sunny days resulted in a three-point drop in the CDC’s flu severity index for the same time period.
But, don’t swap your typical health precautions for a bikini and some nontoxic sunscreen, according to what David Slusky, PhD and co-author of the study, told Time. “This is not a substitute for the flu shot. This is not a substitute for washing your hands,” he said.
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