For years your mom nagged about the importance of bundling up when when it is cold outside. She lovingly gave you this advice because she felt it would protect you from getting sick. While you may have scoffed and laughed at her perceived naiveté it seems that, as always, she knew best. Yes: What you believed to be an old wives’ tale has now been validated in a new Yale University-led study.
Researchers found that the cold virus can reproduce more efficiently in the cooler temperature of our nasal passages than they do in the body’s warmer core temperature. This, it seems, could be the real reason people get sick when the temperature takes a dip. Prior to this study many had blamed the higher incidences of colds on the fact that people tend to gather together indoors more frequently when it is chilly outside than they do when it is warm. The theory: that increased contact with others who are sick would lead to an easier exchange of germs.
Researchers had long concluded that the rhinovirus—which is what causes the common cold—survived and thrived better in cool noses instead of warm moist lungs. They had kept the focus of prior studies on how body temperature influenced the virus as opposed to the immune system, according to study author and Yale University professor of immunobiology Akikp Iwasaki.
For this new study, the researchers compared immune response to the rhinovirus when cells were incubated at 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) versus 33 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit). “We found that the innate immune response to the rhinovirus is impaired at the lower body temperature compared to the core body temperature,” Iwasaki said.
Though the study looked at mouse cells, its implications can translate and offer clues to how humans handle the virus (since 20 percent of people have it in their nasal passages at any given time). So take your mom’s advice: stay warm, dress in layers, and cover your nose when you go walking in a winter wonderland or check out these 10 strategies doctors use to avoid colds and flu.