Study: Winter "Coat" Helps Flu Flourish

The latest research into why the flu virus is so rugged in winter months could lead to new ways to prevent and treat it, scientists suggest.

On The Early Show Monday, medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips of CBS station WCBS-TV in New York observed that experts have long wondered why the flu is primarily a winter phenomenon, and there was never a single answer to explain it completely.

Now, Phillips says, a team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health has found that the flu virus coats itself with a fatty material that hardens and protects it in colder temperatures.

When the mercury rises, the coating melts, and unless it's inside a person, the virus dies.

And, once it's inside a human, the respiratory tract melts the coating, and the virus is then able to infect the person's cells.

Might that finding lead to a cure, or new treatments?

The virus' shell, Phillips explained, may make it difficult to wash off of surfaces and fingertips. In in theory, that information may enable scientists to develop a detergent or wash that could eradicate the virus and cut down on its transmission.

Until that happens, the best defense against the flu is a flu shot, Phillips says.

Other steps you could take:

1) Avoid sugar: Sugar is thought to limit the immune system

2) Avoid stress and get enough rest: Stress and fatigue sabotage your immune system

3) Eat garlic regularly: Some evidence says garlic kills flu viruses in addition to bacteria and fungus

4) Exercise: It boosts your immune system

5) Keep windows slightly open: Good air circulation may minimize the spread of winter viruses.

6) Wash hands frequently. "We can't say it enough," Phillips stressed.