Children in the cold wearing masks

Why Viruses Love the Cold

Flu season is beginning to rear its ugly head, and many of us cannot seem to shake the sneezing and coughing. The flu is highly contagious and typically spreads via coughs and sneezes from an infected person. Infected adults can spread the virus one day prior to noticing symptoms and up to a week after symptoms begin. Although most cases of the flu tend to go away by themselves, preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control for the flu season last year indicate between 24,000 and 62,000 people died from the flu, and around 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year. 

With COVID-19 cases also on the rise across the country as we approach the cold winter months, let’s discuss the reasons for why we are more prone to these viruses during this time of year.  

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS 

The CDC monitors flu activity very closely. Flu season can begin in the U.S. as early as October but does not usually kick into full gear until December and typically peaks in February. Influenza can occur at any time, but most cases follow a predictable seasonal pattern.  

It is a common misconception that the flu is directly caused by cold temperatures. However, the influenza virus is necessary to have the flu, so cold temperatures are only a contributing factor, although some argue it is the lack of sunlight or different lifestyles people lead in winter months that are the primary contributing factors. 

Common cold and flu viruses attempt to enter our bodies through the nose, but our nasal linings have strong defense systems that protect against these microbial intruders. In a 2016 study, researchers found that viruses were more likely to die in the immune system when grown at warmer temperatures. Cold air, on the other hand, cools the nasal passages and slows down mucus clearance, allowing the virus to infect the body.  

PROTECTING YOURSELF 

The threat of becoming sick has spread throughout our communities during this pandemic, and many of the precautions we are taking to stay safe from COVID-19 are going to pay dividends during this flu season. Here are a few tips to avoid becoming infected with the flu: 

  1. Get vaccinatedThe annual flu vaccination is the most effective way to protect yourself against the flu and other serious complications. 
  2. Wash your hands regularly. Clean hands protect against many infections, including the flu and COVID-19. Keeping your hands clean is an easy way to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy. 
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs are most likely to enter your body through the eyes, nose and mouth. Although we cannot control everything we inhale, we can reduce the risk of infection by keeping our hands away from our faces. 
  4. If you do not feel well, stay home. If you are experiencing any symptoms of the flu or COVID-19, spending any amount of time around others puts them at risk of infection. Quickly isolating yourself can prevent the spread of the flu and COVID-19 and save lives. 

Although many factors can contribute to contracting a virus, cold weather presents ideal conditions to for the virus to infect people at a higher rate. As the temperature continues to drop throughout the winter months, following these tips gives the best shot for warding off these viruses.

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Photo credit: Imgorthand

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