Ah, that incessant myth about the cold getting people sick. Wear a hat and put on a jacket when you go outside. Don’t stand too close to the air conditioner. Don’t go outside with wet hair. Mothers (and grandmothers) have been saying this for years. Most people know colds are caused by viruses, so where is the logic to this old wives’ tale?
We asked some BYU students if they thought the cold has anything to do with getting sick.
Although some studies suggest more complex hypotheses, most experts point to being indoors more often and a closer proximity to others as the main culprit behind winter colds.
Myth or not, it is coming in contact with viruses that causes someone to come down with a cold or the flu. Many of these peak in winter.
Chantel Sloan, a BYU professor who teaches an infectious disease class, said the peak in winter may not be a coincidence. “A lot of viruses tend to perform better in certain conditions,” she said, “namely, certain temperature and humidity conditions.”
Other viruses, such as the RSV virus, change their shape due to the temperature around them. “Some viruses can detect the temperature change going from the cold outside to your warm body when inhaled,” Sloan said. “Once these viruses detect the rise in temperature, they can change their shape in order to more easily bind to your cells.”
A connection may still exist between being cold and getting a cold, but the old wives’ tale is a little exaggerated. “The weather is necessary for some viruses to thrive, but it isn’t sufficient to actually make you sick,” Sloan said.