Drivers of Infectious Disease Seasonality: Potential Implications for COVID-19

N. Kronfeld-Schor*, T. J. Stevenson, S. Nickbakhsh, E. S. Schernhammer, X. C. Dopico, T. Dayan, M. Martinez, B. Helm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Not 1 year has passed since the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Since its emergence, great uncertainty has surrounded the potential for COVID-19 to establish as a seasonally recurrent disease. Many infectious diseases, including endemic human coronaviruses, vary across the year. They show a wide range of seasonal waveforms, timing (phase), and amplitudes, which differ depending on the geographical region. Drivers of such patterns are predominantly studied from an epidemiological perspective with a focus on weather and behavior, but complementary insights emerge from physiological studies of seasonality in animals, including humans. Thus, we take a multidisciplinary approach to integrate knowledge from usually distinct fields. First, we review epidemiological evidence of environmental and behavioral drivers of infectious disease seasonality. Subsequently, we take a chronobiological perspective and discuss within-host changes that may affect susceptibility, morbidity, and mortality from infectious diseases. Based on photoperiodic, circannual, and comparative human data, we not only identify promising future avenues but also highlight the need for further studies in animal models. Our preliminary assessment is that host immune seasonality warrants evaluation alongside weather and human behavior as factors that may contribute to COVID-19 seasonality, and that the relative importance of these drivers requires further investigation. A major challenge to predicting seasonality of infectious diseases are rapid, human-induced changes in the hitherto predictable seasonality of our planet, whose influence we review in a final outlook section. We conclude that a proactive multidisciplinary approach is warranted to predict, mitigate, and prevent seasonal infectious diseases in our complex, changing human-earth system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-54
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Biological Rhythms
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Anthropocene
  • circannual
  • global change
  • infectious diseases
  • photoperiod
  • seasonality


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