A new list has ranked Utah's air as the No. 8 driest in the nation, with less humidity than the air in Africa's Sahara. If you're looking to avoid getting the flu, that is not good news.

"We are one of the driest places in the country," confirmed Pete Wilensky, lead forecaster for the Salt Lake City Bureau of the National Weather Service.

In summer, humidity in Utah is low because of the heat. But in winter, humidity in our homes is particularly low because we heat our air to heat our homes, vanishing what little humidity there was, said Wilensky.

"When you warm it up and don't add moisture, it drops dramatically," he said. Because of this, many furnaces include humidifiers.

Vicks, the maker of cold and flu medications and salves, has created a new national "moisture map" calling Utah eighth driest. Humidity levels here can drop as low as 10 percent during the winter months.

Living dry actually makes us sick. That is because influenza actually lives longer in low humidity.

"It is counterintuitive, the opposite of mold, or bacteria, and it is not necessarily typical of all viruses," Ted Myatt, environmental scientist at Environmental Health & Engineering in Needham, Mass., told the Daily Herald.

Myatt conducted the study to determine the nation's driest cities, focusing particularly on dry indoor air. Deserts at high altitude -- like the Wasatch Front -- bring with them a host of health considerations -- dry throats, dry skin, dry eyes. But most importantly, the dry air means the flu virus lives longer, and thus spreads more easily.

"If someone across the hall sneezes, you've got a higher chance of inhaling the live virus," he said.

In low humidity, the virus can live for hours, instead of minutes, research shows.

The solution is to turn on a humidifier -- both to avoid getting sick, and to help stop the flu from spreading if someone in your home is ill.

Low humidity also makes the body more susceptible to flu by cracking the mucus coating in the sinus, more easily allowing the virus access to our bodies, Myatt said.

Having a humidity level as low as Utah's average also means that when you turn off the humidifier, the humidity level immediately begins to drop. The tighter your house is, the fewer air leaks, and the slower the humidity level will drop.

"Newer homes are built much tighter, and that will trap in the moisture," he said.

Houseplants help too.

"Plants add some moisture to your space," he said.

According to Vicks:

• Keeping your home's relative humidity levels between 40 to 60 percent can decrease influenza survival by up to 30 percent in the air and on countertops, doorknobs, faucets.

• Humidifiers are a perfect solution to help temporarily relieve congestion and coughs by keeping the throat and nasal passages hydrated.

• When humidity levels in the home fall to as low as 10 percent, moisture is pulled from wood furniture, antiques and even your piano.

Top 10 U.S. Cities with the Driest Air:

1. Albuquerque, NM

2. Colorado Springs, CO

3. Denver, CO

4. Las Vegas, NV

5. Phoenix, AZ

6. Tucson, AZ

7. Minneapolis, MN

8. Salt Lake City, UT

9. Ogden, UT

10. Madison, WI

-- Caleb Warnock covers 11 cities in north Utah County and is also the Daily Herald's environmental reporter. You can find him on Facebook, at calebwarnock.blogspot.com or by email at cwarnock@heraldextra.com.
Read more from Caleb Warnock here.
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