Autumn and winter are cold and flu season -- when people are most
likely to catch the viruses that cause influenza and the common cold.
Is the old advice true that wearing warm clothing will help prevent a cold? Or if you do get sick, should you follow the old saying, "Feed a cold and starve a fever"? And what about that fever? Should you take medication to reduce your temperature, or is it better to let the body treat the infection itself?
Everyone seems to have an answer. But how much value is there in popular wisdom?
Doctor Alvin Nelson El Amin knows a lot about cold and flu season. He is medical director of the immunization program for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in California. He says studies may be just starting to provide evidence for long-held beliefs. For example, scientists for years dismissed the idea that getting cold and wet might cause colds or flu.
But recent studies have shown that cold temperatures cause stress on the body. That stress can create conditions more inviting to viruses. So maybe it does make sense to wrap up warmly before leaving home.
And what about the advice to feed a cold and starve a fever? Doctor Nelson El Amin says you should eat if you have a cold and are hungry. But a higher than normal body temperature suggests a more serious problem. He says people are usually not hungry anyway when they have a high fever. Eating might even cause a person to vomit. But drinking plenty of liquids is important. A fever can easily dehydrate the body.
Finally, when should you treat a fever? Doctor Nelson El Amin says a fever should be treated if it stays at forty degrees centigrade or above for a day or more. A temperature that high can damage brain cells. The doctor also believes in treating a fever if it prevents a person from sleeping.
Aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen can all be used to reduce pain and fever. But aspirin should not be given to children because it can cause a rare condition.
One belief that Doctor Nelson El Amin wanted to make clear is wrong is that influenza vaccine can cause the flu. It cannot. Sometimes people get the flu from another person soon after they get vaccinated, so they blame the vaccine, he says.
But, flu vaccines do not protect everyone who gets them. Still, even if a person does get sick, the vaccine can limit the effects of the virus.