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Why colds and flu are more common in winter than in summer

Many of us have heard: "Do not go out without a coat, you will catch a cold." Cold weather does increase the risk of colds, but it is not the cause. Everything is somewhat more complicated, writes CNN.

Photo: Shutterstock

Many viruses, including rhinovirus - a common culprit for colds - and the flu, remain infectious longer and multiply faster in colder temperatures. This is why these viruses spread more easily in winter, whether you are wearing a warm coat or not. It is too early to say how the weather affects the coronavirus: while scientists believe that it behaves differently than the common cold and flu viruses.

Cold weather can change the outer membrane of the influenza virus, making it stronger and more elastic. Scientists believe this facilitates the transmission of the virus from person to person.

On the subject: How to independently distinguish the flu and the common cold from COVID-19

The problem isn't just due to the cold winter air. Its dryness also increases the likelihood of a flu outbreak. A study by the National Institutes of Health suggests that dry winter air helps the flu virus stay infectious for longer.

How your immune system reacts to cold weather also matters. Inhaling cold air can negatively affect the immune response in the airways, making it easier for viruses to enter. This is why wearing a scarf around your nose and mouth can help.

In addition, most people receive less sunlight during the winter. This is a problem because the sun is the main source of vitamin D, which is essential for the immune system. Physical activity is another factor that also tends to decrease in winter. People are three times more likely to postpone exercise in snowy or icy weather.

Instead, they spend more time indoors. This usually means closer contact with other people, which leads to the spread of the disease. Respiratory viruses usually spread within 6 feet (about 2 meters) of an infected person. When you are indoors, it is very likely that the distance is shorter.

In addition, cold weather dries out the eyes and mucous membranes of the nose and throat. Since the viruses that cause colds and flu are usually inhaled, the virus can more easily attach to these damaged and dry surfaces.

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How to protect yourself

While cold and humidity do not cause illness by themselves, there are strategies to help prevent illness throughout the year:

  • wash your hands often;
  • do not touch your face (people do this 9 to 23 times an hour);
  • drink water depending on your needs and the required rate (on average, for an adult it is 8 glasses a day);
  • Eat a balanced diet: dark green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins that support the immune system; eggs, fortified milk, salmon and tuna contain vitamin D;
  • stay physically active even in winter;
  • often wash hard surfaces in the house that touch a lot;
  • If your nose or throat dry out in winter, consider using a humidifier.
  • get a flu shot and, when it's your turn, coronavirus.

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