Can you Catch a Cold by Being Cold?

pink-1102034_1280Mothers have been warning  us “not to go outside without our jackets”  ever since we were kids. Of course any kid worth his salt has to ask “why?” and while many mothers opt for the ever popular “because I said so” some explain “that if you go out without your jacket, you’ll catch your death of cold”.  But is it true or is it just an old wives tale? Can you really catch a cold from being outside in cooler temperatures? Although there are some pretty solid arguments that being cold doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to catch a cold new evidence suggests that mom wasn’t too far off the mark.

What is the common cold?

The common cold is also known as the rhinovirus. As the name suggests, the rhinovirus is an upper respiratory virus that proliferates in the nose. The two most common ways of catching the virus are through the air or by coming in contact with contaminated surfaces or people. [1] 

So what about this idea that being cold may promote catching a cold?

Back in the 1960s researchers first discovered that the rhinovirus multiplied much faster, slightly below body temperature (specifically 91-95 degrees Fahrenheit) .[2] It was an important finding since the virus often infects the lining of the nostrils, where the temperature falls within that range being cooled by incoming air. More recently, researchers at Yale have discovered that the body launches a much weaker defense against the virus in cooler temperatures too. [3]

All this means that mom’s advice was pretty good, but you already knew that, right?

Cold and Flu Season

While it seems that the temperature maybe a factor in our ability to fight the rhinovirus there are two other explanations for why more people seem to get sick during the fall and winter months. First more people are spending time indoors where they come in close contact with the virus. Second, fall marks the beginning of the school year and anytime you get a group of kids together there’s a good chance of spreading a cold virus.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

It’s not always possible to prevent the spread of the rhinovirus but there are things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Wash your hands regularly, after using the restroom, before handling food and after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose.
  • Keep surfaces in your home clean, especially if someone in your family is sick.
  • Wash clothes, bedding and other fabrics that may be contaminated. It’s recommended to wash at 140 degrees F, with a bleach-based laundry product. [4]

Summary

The common cold is a virus, so technically it’s not the cold temperature that prompts you to catch it, however cooler temps seem to weaken your defense against it. The bottom line? Once again, mom was right in telling you it’s a good idea to bundle up when it’s cold outside.

References

  1. Rhinovirus. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhinovirus
  2. Zimmer, C. (2015). Unraveling the Key to a Cold Virus’s Effectiveness. Retrieved October 04, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/13/health/unraveling-the-key-to-a-cold-viruss-effectiveness.html?_r=0
  3. Foxmanab, E. F., Storera1, J. A., Fitzgeraldcd, M. E., Wasike2, B. R., Houf, L., Zhaof, H., . . . And, A. M. (n.d.). Ellen F. Foxman. Retrieved October 04, 2016, from http://www.pnas.org/content/112/3/827
  4. How long do bacteria and viruses live outside the body? (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/how-long-do-bacteria-and-viruses-live-outside-the-body.aspx

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