Fact or Fiction: Can cold weather make you sick?
As we close out 2015 and ring in the New Year on Friday, the weather is expected to turn colder in Jersey, and that could mean an increased risk of getting sick.
“Influenza is highly seasonal, other germs as well, for example the meningitis bacteria tends to be seasonal,” said Dr. Ted Louie, an Infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey, affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Highland Park Medical.
Louie said “certainly some bacteria or viruses are probably more hearty in the wintertime, but it’s a combination of things, for example the influenza. It will be the coldness and people close together, and then people sneezing, people coughing, people touching other people.”
Dr. Louie also said during the colder weather months “there’s a lot of people who are sensitive to dry heat, for example asthmatics or people with allergies.”
“If the heat is dry certainly you can get allergy symptoms, you can get sinus type symptoms, you can get a little bit of a headache perhaps," he said.
Louie said using a humidifier can help, but you have to be careful to properly clean humidifiers because they can harbor bacteria.
So if you’re feeling sick, how do you know if it’s a cold or the flu?
“Typically the flu will be much more severe, so the hallmarks of the flu will be fever, dry cough and muscle aches, so most people will have all three,” said Dr. Louie.
If you do have a cold “you won’t have as high a fever, you won’t tend to have muscle aches, so it will be more a scratchy throat, a sniffy nose. If you have a cold you may feel a little bit under the weather, if you have a bad case of the flu you’re going to feel awful.”
Louie also said the idea that you’ll get sick if you go outside in the winter with a wet head of hair is mostly an old wives tale.
“The typical healthy kid who runs out with their hair wet, that probably makes no difference at all,” he said.
So what’s the best way to protect your health during the winter?
“If you’re around sick people you’re going to avoid them, you’re going to wash your hands,” he said. “If you’re in public places during the cold weather months you can pick up the flu or a cold merely by touching doorknobs or other people’s tissues or just by standing next to someone who is coughing.”