Myth Buster: Cracking the Case on Colds
It’s hard to go anywhere lately without encountering people who are coughing and sneezing. Cold and flu season is upon us and with it comes the flurry of well-meaning advice handed down through generations. Though mom meant well by telling you to zip up your coat to avoid getting sick, our flu expert Dr. John Treanor sets the record straight on some common cold and flu myths.
Myth: You’ll catch a cold from the cold.
While it’s smart to dress appropriately in cold weather, research shows that cold weather doesn’t make you sick. In one study, some volunteers were exposed to cold temperatures where others were kept warm. Both were then infected with rhinovirus, the major cause of colds. The result? Cold volunteers were no more likely to develop a cold than warm volunteers. Cold weather does drive us indoors, though—and closer contact with others probably makes it easier to share germs.
Myth: The flu shot made me sick.
Flu shots contain a mixture of proteins purified from killed virus, so they can’t give you the flu. If you get sick around the time you get a flu shot, it’s likely due to other respiratory viruses in the community during the time flu shots are given. Rarely, some people get a low-grade fever from the flu shot. The truth is that getting your annual flu vaccine is the single best thing you can do to avoid the flu this year.
Myth: Lots of Vitamin C will ward off illness.
Though it’s been subject to a lot of medical research, we’ve yet to find a definitive benefit to high-dose vitamin C for prevention or treatment of colds.
Myth: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
Or is it the other way around? The fact is, it doesn’t matter. While some think that digesting food releases heat, warming you when you’re cold and possibly overheating you when you’re feverish, the truth is you may not feel like eating much when you are sick. The best advice is to drink plenty of water and do what you can to keep up your strength.
Myth: Chicken soup cures colds.
Chicken soup can be a soothing comfort food so enjoy it, if it makes you feel better. But there is no evidence that chicken broth has a specific effect on viral infections. Hovering over a bowl of hot, steaming broth can act like a humidifier, easing congestion and hydrating the irritated membranes in the nose and throat.
So, what’s the best advice to avoid a cold or flu, or treat a virus if you catch one? Get your flu shot. Stay rested, eat well, wash your hands, and use common sense. And remember, time heals.
John Treanor, M.D., is chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at URMC and a professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry. A widely recognized expert in influenza and vaccine research, Dr. Treanor is perhaps best known for helping the nation’s efforts to develop the first vaccine to protect against bird flu, which the FDA approved in 2007.