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The Truth About How...

The Truth About How You Get Sick

While it’s common knowledge that frequently washing your hands and covering your mouth when you cough are good preventative measures for cold and flu season, turns out a lot of the things you’ve heard about catching colds are oldwives’ tales and half-truths. Before you take drastic cold-fighting measures, such as making your boyfriend sleep on the couch or wearing a face mask on the airplane, find out the true culprits of your sniffles.

Can cold weather make you sick? No.
Many of us recall our mothers yelling after us to “Put a coat on or you’re going to catch a cold!” as we carelessly ran out the door jacket-free to play in the wintry air. Evidently, getting cold has nothing to do with catching a cold. Public health expert Dr. Mark Callahan explains that in order to catch a cold, a person must be exposed to a virus; temperature has no impact on a person’s immune system. People are more prone to colds in the winter simply because more time is spent indoors passing the virus from one person to another.

Can kissing get you sick? Unlikely.
There’s no need to turn into a prude every time you or your significant other are feeling under the weather. Most viral infections enter your body through your nose and eyes, not your mouth. In a Journal of Infectious Diseases study, only eight percent of people got sick after locking lips with someone who had a cold. “It’s actually safer to kiss someone who’s sick than shake his hand,” says microbiologist Charles Gerba, Ph.D.

Can staying in a hotel room make you ill? Yes.
Don’t let the fresh sheets and vacuumed carpets deceive you; hotel rooms are teeming with germs. A third of hotel room surfaces were still covered in germs almost a full day after someone carrying a virus spent the night, according to research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Come armed with plenty of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and wipe down all hard surfaces such as light switches, remote controls, and table tops before settling in.

Can you get sick from recycled air on an airplane? Maybe.
In most airplanes, about fifty percent of the air is recirculated, a process in which the air is filtered to remove dust, vapors, bacteria, and mold. Although a virus is too small to get caught in the filter, viruses are usually attached to droplets, which are removed by the filters, according to the Today show’s medical contributor, Dr. Judith Reichman. Even though the chance of getting sick from the circulating air is slim-to-none, you might find yourself with the post-travelling sniffles merely because you were stuck in close proximity to strangers.  

Can using an old toothbrush reinfect you? No.
It’s not necessary to throw away your toothbrush after you recover from a cold or the flu because it’s impossible to re-infect yourself with the same virus. When you get sick, your immune system goes into overdrive, creating virus-specific antibodies. Even if the virus is still hanging out on your toothbrush after you’ve recovered, the antibodies should protect you against contracting the same virus again.

Can you catch the flu from the vaccine? No.
The vaccine is made from an inactivated (killed) influenza virus that can’t cause infection. Experts believe there are a few reasons why people often think the shot is to blame for the onset of a sickness. First of all, people can mistake side effects of the vaccine for the flu. While the main by-product is a sore arm, rare symptoms include fever, muscle pain, and weakness. Secondly, flu season occurs during the same months that cold-causing bugs are out in full force. Those who get the vaccine and develop symptoms within a couple of days either caught an unrelated virus, or were exposed to an influenza virus shortly before getting vaccinated. Don’t point fingers at the innocent flu vaccine; chances are your co-worker with the hacking cough is the one responsible.

Is your office making you sick? Probably.
An office is practically a cesspool of germs and viruses. Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chair of the Vanderbilt Department of Preventive Medicine says, “If you had X-ray vision, you would see a cloud of viruses around them (co-workers). Every time they exhale, respiratory viruses come out, extending about three feet, creating a cloud around them.” An office is a germ breeding ground and even the flick of a light switch could transmit viruses. Even worse, the co-worker who borrowed your pen this morning could be sick but appear completely healthy. People can pass on a virus about a day before they are showing any symptoms.

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