NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

January 4, 2013

Cold and flu myths and facts

Nobody wants the common cold as a guest, but the upper respiratory infection keeps knocking at the door, never more frequently than during the winter holiday season.

Some experts have suggested it offers a service in building up a child’s general immunities. Bah, humbug to the cold bug on that, responds Dr. Jeffrey S. Kahn, director of infectious diseases in the department of pediatrics at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

“I would not favor exposing young infants to respiratory viruses as this can lead to lower respiratory tract disease like pneumonia and upper respiratory tract infections, which often lead to otitis media (ear infections) which can be serious and lead to increased use of antibiotics — not good,” Kahn said. “While I agree that there may be a prevailing germ phobia in our culture and not all microbes are bad, I would not put the cold viruses in this category.”

That said, here’s a look at common myths and how best to prevent and fight colds, according to Kahn and to Dr. Amber Hyde, an independent primary care physician at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center; Dr. Paul Kim, a family practitioner associated with Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine; and Dr. Janna Massar, an internist associated with Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano.

Colds are caused by cold weather.

No, they are caused by viruses. However, you might be more susceptible to colds in the winter months because you tend to go indoors in crowded environments where you are more likely to pick up other people’s viruses. Plus, there are some strains of cold viruses that thrive in the cold, and cold weather can dry out your sinuses, making them more vulnerable to infection.

You can catch a cold by going outside with wet hair or damp clothes.

No, but being wet can weaken your immune system, which makes it more likely that you can catch a cold.

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