HEALTH

For The Last Time, Being Cold Doesn't Make You Catch Cold

Tell that to your mum next time she tells you to take a jumper.

11/07/2016 1:17 PM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:57
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That blanket might keep you warm, but it's going to do zilch when it comes to fending off a cold.

It's the catchphrase uttered every winter: 'Rug up or you'll catch cold!'

Well, sorry, mums around the world, but in actual fact, the colder temperature has very little to do with the likelihood of your catching a cold or flu, despite the fact autumn and winter are the seasons you're most likely to get sick. (Confusing, we know, but bear with us.)

Which begs the question... if it's not the cold weather that makes us catch a cold... what does?

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"It's interesting because the reality is, you get a cold because you get a cold virus, so it doesn't matter how cold you are," Professor William Rawlinson, senior medical virologist at NSW Health Pathology told The Huffington Post Australia. "Unless you contract that virus, you are not going to get a cold.

"When you have isolated populations of people who don't come in contact with other groups, you'll find they don't get colds. It's when they have contact other people that the virus is able to be transferred."

Fair enough... but why, then, do we still get most of our colds during winter?

"We get them because we get in close contact with other people," Rawlinson said. "Either because someone coughs and you breathe the virus in, or they cough onto a surface and you touch that surface and then touch your nose or eye.

"The fact we spend more time indoors [during the colder months] leads to closer contact, which in turn means a cold virus tends to spread from one person to the other more easily."

Anna Pekunova
This little boy went sneeze sneeze sneeze all the way home.

There is also some research that suggests our bodies might be particularly 'ripe' for contracting a virus during the colder months, due to some of the ways it behaves in response to more frigid temperatures.

"You know how in cold weather, your nose tends to sniff and dribble a bit? That's because the blood vessels in your nose swell up a bit -- so your nose doesn't freeze and drop off, really -- it's a natural response," Rawlinson said.

"Frostbite occurs when that doesn't work and the end of your nose freezes off and dies. This is the opposite of that, where your nose is doing what it's supposed to and swells up and keeps the blood circulation going.

"There is some evidence that suggests viruses actually like that environment because of the increased circulation, and that may help the infection to grow in your nose.

"The major thing is still coming in contact with people. But in terms of what actually happens at a microscopic level in your nose, the swelling and extra blood flow probably contributes a little bit, and allows the virus to grow a bit more easily in that part of your nose."

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There's a reason your nose goes red in the cold.

Another factor to take into account is the changing of the seasons, and the fact viruses actually have the ability to make their way around the world. (Anyone else seen 'Contagion'? On second thoughts, maybe don't.)

"The reason [cold and flu season] is seasonal is because of the changing weather," Rawlinson notes. "Each year, viruses move between the Northern and Sourthern hemispheres.

"We actually track the virus causing influenza and can see that the same strains that are around [for winter in the Northern hemisphere] tend to come down for our winter.

"Furthermore, they change from year to year. With influenza, it mutates every year. With the common cold, there are hundreds of different types, so even if you get one one year, the following year you'll still probably get another."

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New year, new cold.

When it comes to steering clear of catching a cold this year, Rawlinson says your best bet is to scrub up on your hygiene.

"The best way to prevent a cold is to do simple hygiene things, like washing your hands," Rawlinson said. "Especially if you have been in contact with someone who has been coughing and sneezing on surfaces you may have touched.

"If you have a cold, stay away from other people.

"If you need to cough or sneeze, make sure you do it into a tissue. Handkerchiefs aren't actually ideal, because once you're done with them you put it in your pocket and carry the virus around with you.

"If your child has a cold, it's best to keep them away from childcare because it's bound to spread. While adults can be somewhat trusted to wash their hands, getting a two-year-old to do it is another story."

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