What comes to mind when you think of a cold? Sneezing, coughing, headaches, slight fevers, stiffness, congestion — am I on the nose?
Unless you’re superman or Jesus, you’ve probably had a cold before. But it’s important to know that symptoms are not the same thing as the infection. In this case, the common cold is a virus, most commonly the rhinovirus — which has over 99 strains — as well as 200 other viruses — and the sneezing and coughing etc. are the symptoms.
One of the core aspects of a virus is that it requires a host to “live”. There’s still a big debate going on in the scientific community about whether a virus is technically living (I say it is), but we’ll save that for another day.
Viruses are spread through contact between living entities.
And that’s why you get a cold. Because humans are social creatures, and we like to be up in each other’s faces all the time for some reason. We also like to tell each other lies and make up stories for things we don’t quite understand.
Which is why so many of us to this day still think that going out in the cold will give us the common cold virus. Here’s the thing though: it doesn’t. In fact, cold temperature has been found to stimulate the immune system.
Then again, stress stimulates the immune system too. And that doesn’t end up well in the long term. Cold weather can end up reducing your body’s core temperature if you’re in it for long enough, which can then lead to a weaker immune system.
But that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a cold. You get a cold only when you are exposed to the virus, which is usually when you’re near others. Remember when I said we like to be in each other’s faces?
During the cold season, people tend to be inside a lot more for warmth, which means people are closer together, and therefore more likely to infect each other with whatever they have. Either through physical contact, or contact with doorknobs and utensils that an infected person has touched, you get a cold from others.
They still need to have been exposed to the cold themselves before passing it on, however. If you hate getting sick, you might try locking yourself up during winter, but like the heroes in our favourite stories, the rhinovirus always finds a way (in a pretty un-heroic manner, mind you).
However you get it, the cold weather is not the cause. Plenty of things can make your immune system weaker and more susceptible to the virus, but what makes the cold weather different is how it causes humans to interact and “huddle up” with one another.