Though the holiday season is a joyous time of year, it’s also one when many people succumb to cold and flu. Spending so much time indoors in close proximity to others can increase a person’s susceptibility to flu and cold, so it’s no surprise that the holiday season, when many people spend lots of time celebrating indoors with family and friends, marks the unofficial start to cold and flu season.
Despite what Mom might have told you about going out into the cold with a wet head or leaving home without wearing a coat, such actions do not increase your risk for cold and flu. But being cooped up indoors, where germs from others who are sick can fester, can increase that risk.
Cold weather also can be a factor, but not for the reason you think. According to a 2007 study from researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the influenza virus is more stable and can stay in the air longer when the air is cold and dry. Dr. Peter Palese, a flu researcher who is professor and chairman of the school’s microbiology department, examined guinea pigs infected with the flu virus to determine the connection between the flu and cold weather. Dr. Palese varied the air temperature and humidity in the guinea pigs’ environment and determined that flu transmission was best at 41 F, while the prevalence of transmission declined as the temperature rose. By the time temperatures reached 86 F, the virus was not transmitted at all. Low humidity also helped transmit the virus, and high humidity stopped the spread. Flu viruses spread through the air in water droplets expelled from sick individuals’noses and mouths. High humidity may cause these droplets to fall to the ground before they can infect someone else.
Colds are largely transmitted through surface contact with the virus or direct contact with a sick individual.The cold virus is then contracted on the hands and typically transferred to the nose, eyes or mouth through inadvertent touching of these areas. Spending time indoors in close quarters with other people, which is more common in the winter, can facilitate the spread of colds as well as the flu virus. There are many ways to reduce your risk of contracting a cold or the flu virus this winter. Perhaps no preventive measure is more effective than getting a flu shot. In addition, wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of germs, and disinfect remote controls, computer keyboards, tablets, mobile phones, and other items that are handled by multiple people on any given day. In addition, spend as much time outdoors as possible so you can escape potentially contaminated indoor air.
If you come down with the flu, increase the humidity in your home by running the shower with the door open, using a recreational aquarium or boiling pots of water. Maintain a warm indoor temperature to reduce the likelihood that the flu virus will spread.
Other ways to reduce your risk for cold and flu include:
• maintaining a healthy diet
• getting several minutes of sunlight per day
• exercising regularly