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Winter flu or cold - lifestyle is the main culprit

Swastika Karmaker | Monday, 17 January 2022


It all starts with the leaves falling from the trees. The sniffles set in when the temperature falls and the daylight fades. 

During the winter, the number of people catching a cold or flu due to various influenza viruses, pneumonia, or other causes rises dramatically. However, these diseases are more likely to happen during the transition, when the winter is about to end.

"The outcome that you see in winter is not due to the winter in itself, but what has transpired prior to the peak winter.” 

“During the peak winter season, the diseases are dormant. It is during the transition that carries the disease into the winter, but the start is in the fall," said Mohd. Raeed Jamiruddin, Research Officer in Clinical Laboratory Services, ICDDR,b and Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacy, BRAC University. 

If you just look at the scenario in Bangladesh, where winter lasts barely four months, everyone from newborns to those in their eighties and nineties, fall sick with a cold, flu, or pneumonia. 

Flu and pneumonia patients flood hospitals such as Dhaka Shishu Hospital and Dhaka Medical College during this time of the year. 

Sraboni Halder from Narayanganj had struggled to get a bed in the hospital for her two-month-old niece. 

"The baby required an ICU, so we first took her to a private hospital in Narayanganj. When her condition deteriorated, the doctor told us that she had pneumonia. So we had to shift her to Dhaka Shishu Hospital last night. But due to a lack of beds, we had to wait until the morning to admit her," she described her sufferings. 

It is a common misconception that the flu is caused by cold weather. Cold weather actually alters how the body reacts to disease and causes people to behave in a manner that maximises the risk of infection. 

"Regarding cold and flu, in general, researchers have not yet been able to identify as to why flu cases increase in winter but are almost none existent in summer,” said Mr Jamiruddin.

“However, there is this understanding that heat shock protein may play a role in such cases. It is generally observed that in winter, there is an increase in the certain receptor due to the increase in heat shock protein," he remarked. 

Hiding from cold 

People tend to spend more time indoors during the winter. They cluster in small groups in relatively small places with too little ventilation and minimal personal space. 

The air within is also dried out by heating systems. That means they are in pretty close contact with others who might be carrying viruses. 

When one sputters with a cold, a mist of droplets is ejected from the nose and mouth. These particulates can stay rather large in warm air and fall to the ground. 

In dry air, however, they disintegrate into smaller fragments, ultimately getting so tiny that they can remain airborne for hours or days. In addition, cold air contains less water vapour than hot air, keeping it drier. 

Therefore, in the winter, you are inhaling a cocktail of dead cells, mucous and viruses. In research, these parameters have been shown to have a major impact on the spread of respiratory viruses. 

Immune affect 

The body's defences against infection are weakened by the cold. Because there is less sunlight and vitamin D to boost the immune system during the short days of winter, you are more susceptible to infection. 

Also, when you breathe in cold air, the blood vessels in your nose may contract to prevent heat loss. This could hinder white blood cells from entering your mucous membranes and destroying any viruses you breathe in, letting them sneak through body defences unknowingly. 

Focus on lifestyle 

While the chilly weather promotes the spreading of the flu, it is still thought that the way individuals interact is what causes the majority of infections. 

It's certainly fantastic news since it signifies you have the authority to put a stop to it. 

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggest humidifying rooms, elevating the thermostat and opening windows to have more airflow to create healthy and balanced indoor environments. 

Warming up by overdressing, getting quality sleep, as well as taking vitamin supplements, will allow you to meet your daily required consumption and retain your immune system functioning. 

Drinking enough water can help detoxify the body that builds up and washing your hands in a timely manner, as well as avoiding putting your hands near vulnerable regions like your eyes, mouth and nose will lower your chances of contracting and transmitting the cold virus. 

Masks are a simple way to shield yourself and others not only from spreading the Coronavirus but also other viruses. 

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