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Winter Is Coming: A Southern Hemisphere Perspective of the Environmental Drivers of SARS-CoV-2 and the Potential Seasonality of COVID-19

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Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town 7535, South Africa
2
Elwandle Coastal Node, South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa
3
School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2050, South Africa
4
Global Change Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2050, South Africa
5
Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology, Myles H. Thaler Center for AIDS and Human Retrovirus Research, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903, USA
6
Alliance for Collaboration on Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Pretoria 0001, South Africa
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(16), 5634; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17165634
Received: 1 June 2020 / Revised: 29 July 2020 / Accepted: 31 July 2020 / Published: 5 August 2020
SARS-CoV-2 virus infections in humans were first reported in December 2019, the boreal winter. The resulting COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the WHO in March 2020. By July 2020, COVID-19 was present in 213 countries and territories, with over 12 million confirmed cases and over half a million attributed deaths. Knowledge of other viral respiratory diseases suggests that the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 could be modulated by seasonally varying environmental factors such as temperature and humidity. Many studies on the environmental sensitivity of COVID-19 are appearing online, and some have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Initially, these studies raised the hypothesis that climatic conditions would subdue the viral transmission rate in places entering the boreal summer, and that southern hemisphere countries would experience enhanced disease spread. For the latter, the COVID-19 peak would coincide with the peak of the influenza season, increasing misdiagnosis and placing an additional burden on health systems. In this review, we assess the evidence that environmental drivers are a significant factor in the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, globally and regionally. We critically assessed 42 peer-reviewed and 80 preprint publications that met qualifying criteria. Since the disease has been prevalent for only half a year in the northern, and one-quarter of a year in the southern hemisphere, datasets capturing a full seasonal cycle in one locality are not yet available. Analyses based on space-for-time substitutions, i.e., using data from climatically distinct locations as a surrogate for seasonal progression, have been inconclusive. The reported studies present a strong northern bias. Socio-economic conditions peculiar to the ‘Global South’ have been omitted as confounding variables, thereby weakening evidence of environmental signals. We explore why research to date has failed to show convincing evidence for environmental modulation of COVID-19, and discuss directions for future research. We conclude that the evidence thus far suggests a weak modulation effect, currently overwhelmed by the scale and rate of the spread of COVID-19. Seasonally modulated transmission, if it exists, will be more evident in 2021 and subsequent years. View Full-Text
Keywords: COVID-19; environmental influences; humidity; SARS-CoV-2; seasonality; temperature COVID-19; environmental influences; humidity; SARS-CoV-2; seasonality; temperature
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MDPI and ACS Style

Smit, A.J.; Fitchett, J.M.; Engelbrecht, F.A.; Scholes, R.J.; Dzhivhuho, G.; Sweijd, N.A. Winter Is Coming: A Southern Hemisphere Perspective of the Environmental Drivers of SARS-CoV-2 and the Potential Seasonality of COVID-19. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 5634. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17165634

AMA Style

Smit AJ, Fitchett JM, Engelbrecht FA, Scholes RJ, Dzhivhuho G, Sweijd NA. Winter Is Coming: A Southern Hemisphere Perspective of the Environmental Drivers of SARS-CoV-2 and the Potential Seasonality of COVID-19. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17(16):5634. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17165634

Chicago/Turabian Style

Smit, Albertus J.; Fitchett, Jennifer M.; Engelbrecht, Francois A.; Scholes, Robert J.; Dzhivhuho, Godfrey; Sweijd, Neville A. 2020. "Winter Is Coming: A Southern Hemisphere Perspective of the Environmental Drivers of SARS-CoV-2 and the Potential Seasonality of COVID-19" Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 17, no. 16: 5634. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17165634

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