Seasonal variation in host susceptibility and cycles of certain infectious diseases.
Seasonal cycles of infectious diseases have been variously attributed to changes in atmospheric conditions, the prevalence or virulence of the pathogen, or the behavior of the host. Some observations about seasonality are difficult to reconcile with these explanations. These include the simultaneous appearance of outbreaks across widespread geographic regions of the same latitude; the detection of pathogens in the off-season without epidemic spread; and the consistency of seasonal changes, despite wide variations in weather and human behavior. In contrast, an increase in susceptibility of the host population, perhaps linked to the annual light/dark cycle and mediated by the pattern of melatonin secretion, might account for many heretofore unexplained features of infectious disease seasonality. Ample evidence indicates that photoperiod-driven physiologic changes are typical in mammalian species, including some in humans. If such physiologic changes underlie human resistance to infectious diseases for large portions of the year and the changes can be identified and modified, the therapeutic and preventive implications may be considerable