Does cold weather cause the flu?

Was Grandma right after all? Does cold weather cause the flu? 👵

What is the flu?

The flu, also known as the influenza virus, is spread by exposure to infected particles. These particles are transmitted through the air when people cough and sneeze. You can also be exposed by touching the particles and then touching your mouth or nose. The flu causes achiness, fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and can make you feel yucky and gross in general. You will be a hot achy mess. Many people complain that every last part of their body hurts, eyeballs included. You DON’T want this virus. Of course, it might be just the common cold

Don’t forget your coat!

“Put a hat on or you will catch the flu!” “Zip your coat or you will catch the flu!” 🧥 Was Grandma right? Does the cold weather cause the flu? 

The answer is, well, no, the cold weather alone doesn’t CAUSE the flu. The influenza virus does. But Grandma did have a point. The cold weather seems to have something to do with the spread of the influenza virus, according to the National Institutes of Health. Let’s explore why, so we can help decrease flu transmission this winter! 

One of the obvious causes for the flu to spread more easily in cold weather is that you are likely indoors when the weather is cold and windows are likely to be closed. This traps the air in, and with it, the influenza virus that your visitors are coughing all over your living room. To help avoid this, open up those windows when the air is mild to circulate the air in your house. Also avoid sitting across from your coughing friends in closed quarters, and let’s just avoid sitting in a room of coughing people unless you can’t avoid it. AKA don’t go to the ER for 1 day of runny nose. Talk to us first! Ever see someone wear a mask at the airport? Prob some good advice from Grandma!

The flu spreads better in the cold

According to an article by Harvard University, the influenza virus has been found to survive significantly longer in dry, cold air. This means when the cold wind blows 🌨 and it’s dry in your house, the influenza virus will live much longer and is more likely to infect you. Hmm, looks like Grandmas ARE always right. 

This means once the heat is on, it’s time to get that air nice and moist (yucky word but not yuck in this case). So either sleep on your shower floor OR start up that cool mist humidifier and get that air nice and humid. Keep warm and don’t forget that stocking hat!

Humidified air– when should we use humidifiers

Humidified air can help decrease flu transmission. The first thought is that why don’t we just humidify ALL the air!? Hospitals which tend to be cold and dry might benefit from humidified air as well as those dry hot schools. Humidifiers in every classroom? 🏫 Seems like a cheap alternative to costly flu treatments and hospitalizations. CNN reports that taking action based on this study may help reduce flu transmission, but it’s still too early to justify humidifying the entire community.

Flu vaccines and hand washing are still the best way to prevent the flu. That being said, if humidified air decreases flu transmission, there may or may not be 5 humidifiers being delivered to my house tomorrow! You get a humidifier, you get a humidifier, everyone gets a humidifier!!!! 😜

Get that immune system strong

The Harvard article also states that when the winter comes, the sun goes away and your Vitamin D and melatonin levels drop. This drop makes your immune system weaker and your chance of catching the flu higher. So it looks like that tropical vacation is a perfect way to avoid the flu! Or if you are a regular old human who can’t jet off for the winter to a tropical island, you can just boost Vitamin D with some vitamin supplements or fortified foods and some sunshine on those mild days. Keep that body strong and rested and well nourished!

Protect yourself– get a flu shot

Get your flu shot. Besides avoiding winter, you can get your flu vaccine to decrease your chances of getting the flu. The flu vaccine is going to help prevent you from getting the influenza virus. It’s very important to protect yourself and others around you from getting the flu. If you are sick, have a fever and are coughing away, it might be a great idea to stay home and rest. If you are out in public, you are exposing all the people around you to the flu. 

Good hand washing is always a great idea too. Wash your hands as often as possible during flu season (and always), and stay clear of those hacking buddies! Wash or sanitize before and after eating, after touching that grocery cart and basically whenever you think of it. Your healthy body will thank you!

Grandma had some great points all these years. You may as well get that chicken soup cooking, your winter hat ready and zip up that coat!

–Kim Liner, RN, MSN, CPNP

Nurse-1-1 Health Center is written by nurses in a straight to the point type of way to provide basic health information. We get a lot of people like you searching online for answers to health concerns or looking for a hotline to ask a nurse a few questions. Questions like, how to stop pertussis, or whooping cough, in babies. Is the Hep A vaccine safe? How to prevent UTIs in men? Well we can help. We put some info here for you to find while searching through all that other dry, scary medical information online. Stop that. Read our posts, or chat with us. This is not medical advice or a replacement for medical care, but see what we have to say with our free health information, and hopefully it will stop you from scaring yourself any more than you already have. We can help.