The cold doesn’t make you sick, but in winter the flu reigns: why?

Those who have not had the flu or cold in the last two weeks in Argentina can consider themselves truly privileged. Coughs and handkerchiefs took over the streets, public transportation and almost all groups of friends and work. The Ministry of Health confirms this: until the end of June it verified a gradual increase in cases of respiratory diseases in the context of a seasonal activity of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (one of the main agents causing bronchiolitis) advanced compared to previous years, added to SARS-CoV 2, metapneumovirus, influenza, parainfluenza and adenovirus.

In this context of circulation of all types of well-known microbes and in the middle of the harshest cold season of the year, some of the advice that is most often repeated to us since we were children is “dress well so as not to get sick”, “as does cold, don’t go out on the street to avoid getting infected” or “don’t go out with wet hair, it makes you sick.” But what is true in these old recommendations?

“Generally, due to low temperatures, the population tends to spend much more time indoors and with the windows/doors closed, with less air circulation. This is a known risk factor for the transmission of viral respiratory diseases, since most respiratory viruses are transmitted through the air, through contact with the nose, mouth or what we know as Phlugge droplets. ‘, which are the ones that contain the viruses,” explains the medical specialist in the Clinic Anaclara Murujosa, resident instructor of the Medical Clinic Service of the Italian Hospital of Buenos Aires.

Coughs and handkerchiefs took over the streets, public transportation and almost all groups of friends and work.

An example that makes it clear that the cold does not make you sick: while in countries with temperate climates, seasonal epidemics occur mainly during the winter, in tropical regions with less temperature variability they can appear throughout the year, producing more irregular outbreaks, exemplifies the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, although it is viruses and other germs that cause illness and not the weather, we know that winter is peak flu season. In this regard, Murujosa explains: “In the nose there are multiple immune mechanisms that help fight infections. Recent studies have proven that lower temperatures can reduce the effectiveness of these mechanisms at the level of the cells housed in the nose. That is why it becomes easier for respiratory viruses to bypass these defense mechanisms, generating flu or cold symptoms.”

In this same sense, the prestigious health institution American Heart Association (AHA) details that flu viruses and the one that causes COVID-19 can enter the body through the nose. And because some lab research suggests that cold temperatures can make immune cells less effective, they present an ideal opportunity for germs.

Winter is peak flu season.

The most common symptoms of the flu or other respiratory infections caused by viral agents are cough, body or muscle pain, fatigue, sneezing or rhinitis, and in some cases, fever or low-grade fever, Murujosa lists. “It is key to clarify that, in patients without significant medical history, these conditions are in the vast majority of cases mild and do not entail any danger to the patients’ health. They can be managed at home without having to resort to an on-call medical consultation,” she clarifies.

Therefore, when faced with these discomforts, the ideal is to avoid contact with patients who may have risk factors or who are immunosuppressed. “You can take paracetamol or some other ibuprofen-type analgesic (which are available over the counter in pharmacies) for fever/low-grade fever or body aches. Mucolytics or other decongestant products are not recommended, since there is no evidence that symptoms improve faster,” recommends the doctor and adds that these symptoms usually last 3 to 7 days, although in many cases the cough and fatigue can last up to one month from the onset of symptoms.

Now, “in the presence of symptoms such as shortness of breath or fever (more than 38°) more than three days after the onset of symptoms, it is prudent to go to an on-call to be appropriately evaluated.”

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According to the WHO, the five measures that are really effective in protecting us from the flu are:

• In cases of pregnant women, children from 6 months to 5 years, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and health workers, apply the flu vaccine.

• Wash your hands regularly with soap and running water and dry them well with a single-use towel. He also recommends using an alcohol solution if soap and water are not available.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as they are the most likely routes for germs to enter the body.

• Avoid being around sick people.

• If you do not feel well and have the possibility, stay home so as not to put other people at risk.

This article was originally published in RED/ACCION and is republished under the Human Journalism program.

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