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How Do You Catch a Cold?

Do you believe that you will catch a cold when you go out in the cold without warm clothing or when you have wet hair? If you say no, you are correct.

Colds and pneumonia are caused by infection. You do not pick up infections from cold weather, you get germs from other people who sneeze or cough in your face or transmit germs with their hands to objects that you touch. Research shows that the most common way to get a cold is from someone who has a cold, sneezes on his hands, and then shakes yours. You can also get a cold when a person blows his nose or coughs into a handkerchief and gets some of the germs on his hands, then touches a door knob, and hours later, you touch the door knob and put your fingers in your nose. So the only way that you can get a cold is for someone to give the germ to you directly or by putting the germ onto something else that you touch.

The real question about colds is whether chilling the body hinders your immunity so that you can't kill the germs in your body, so the germs that you can normally control suddenly become pathogens and make you sick, because your immunity is suppressed by you being cold. That question has been answered many times. Chilling does not hinder your immunity as long as you aren't so cold that your body defenses are destroyed. In 1958, H.F. Dowling, and his friends wrote a paper in the American Journal of Hygiene (Vol. 68, pp. 659-65), "Transmission of the Common Cold to Volunteers Under Controlled Conditions". More than 400 volunteers were exposed to viruses that cause colds. Some were exposed to very cold temperatures while wearing heavy coats, some to 60 degree temperatures while wearing underwear, and some to a very warm 80 degrees. All had the same rate of infection. This shows that the crucial factor that determine whether you get a cold is being exposed to the virus that causes the cold.

Then in 1968, R.G. Douglas, Jr., wrote a paper entitled "Exposure to Cold Environment and Rhinovirus and susceptibility to the Common Cold," in the New England Journal of Medicine. Inmates at a Texas prison had the cold virus placed directly into their noses. At varying times after their exposure to the viruses, they were exposed to extreme temperatures, with varying amounts of clothing . Being cold or warm, being dressed, or undressed, and having wet hair or dry hair had no effect on their infection rate.

If you do not want to get a cold, stay away from people. You can get a cold from anything touched by a person who has a cold: a door knob, pencil, phone, desk, spoon, table cloth or anything else. Pepole who are afraid to get colds should never shake hands with anyone.

Checked  10/31/18

May 31st, 2015
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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