With winter in full swing now, you’ve probably started carrying around some common seasonal accessories: a warm hat, mittens, a scarf, and perhaps even some tissues and cough drops. Unfortunately, it’s not an illusion that winter brings about more colds and flus. These illnesses are typically most prevalent between December and February (source). But why do people get sick in the winter?
Why Do People Get Sick in the Winter?
Why do people get sick in the winter? We can’t provide a simple answer to this age-old question. Many factors contribute to the rise in sicknesses in the wintertime:
The Cold, Dry Air
Did your parents ever tell you that you’d get sick if you left the house with wet hair in winter? Despite their empathic orders, being cold won’t literally give you a cold or the flu. The reason the flu virus thrives in winter has to do with the virus and its movement. Studies have revealed that the flu virus can more easily jump from person to person in cold, dry air (source). But why does the flu virus thrive in these conditions?
First, the cold temperatures may allow the virus to survive for longer outside of a human host. So after someone sneezes onto a desk or coughs into their hand and then touches a doorknob, the virus may linger on the surfaces, increasing the likelihood that someone else will come into contact with the virus and get sick. According to the National Institutes of Health, this is likely because the outer membrane of the flu virus, which is made of lipids, doesn’t mix with water. In winter, the lipid membrane stays in gel form, protecting the virus and allowing it to travel further. In warmer temperatures, the lipid membrane melts, which threatens the virus’s ability to survive the elements.
Second, the virus may circulate better in low-humidity air. When an infected person exhales, the virus is encased in small water droplets, which evaporate more quickly in dry air. In humid air, those water-encased viruses may fall to the ground and other surfaces, where they are more likely to infect someone else. Cold air is naturally less humid, which is why winter is such a common time to be sick.
Chilly, dry air is certainly an answer to the question, “Why do people get sick in the winter?” – but it isn’t the only thing to blame.
More Time Spent Indoors
When it’s cold outside, people are more likely to spend time indoors. Often, the time spent indoors is shared with many other people – in offices, in schools, in stores, at holiday parties – making it more likely that germs will be spread amongst the group. All of the people in the space are breathing the same circulated air, spreading germs from person to person.
While the air inside isn’t cold, it is typically dry. Cranking up the heat doesn’t just provide a hospitable environment for germs; it also can lead to a dry throat, respiratory problems, and cracked skin (providing another entrance for germs).
Vulnerable Respiratory Systems
Winter’s chilly, dry air also affects your respiratory system, making it more susceptible to germs. For most of the year, mucus coats your respiratory system, protecting it from pathogens. In winter, the arid air can dry up your nose. And without that helpful mucus, cold germs and the flu virus have an easier path into your body.
In addition, your mucus membranes are more vulnerable when you’re experiencing an allergy flare-up. So when allergies cause your nose to run or make your throat itchy this winter, your respiratory system may let in germs because it is irritated and weak.
Finally, our immune systems may be more lethargic in winter, according to a study conducted at Yale University. This research isn’t conclusive yet, however.
Looking for another reason to despise the sun setting before 5 o’clock each evening? The lack of daylight in winter likely contributes to higher levels of germs.
Sunlight produces three main types of ultraviolet rays: UVC, UVA, and UVB. Although UVC rarely reaches humans because it is absorbed in the earth’s upper atmosphere, it is “a really, really good killer of microbes, bacteria, and viruses” (source). Thus, sunlight can help kill the germs in your home, office, and other interior spaces. So when indoor spaces don’t receive much light exposure, they tend to contain higher levels of bacteria and microbes. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Oregon revealed that rooms with less exposure to daylight have higher amounts of viable bacteria and more germs. So if you had planned to hibernate all winter by closing your blinds and staying inside your home, you may want to rethink your plans. Open the curtains, open the blinds, and let the light shine in.
How Can You Protect Yourself Against Germs in Winter?
Why do people get sick in the winter? When you combine cold, dry air with vulnerable respiratory systems, less daylight, and more time cooped up indoors, the flu virus is more likely to strike. Luckily, everyone can take preventive steps to avoid getting sick in wintertime.
- Wash your hands thoroughly. Don’t underestimate the importance of washing your hands throughout the day. Especially before you eat and after you spend time in public places, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly using soap and warm water.
- Use hand sanitizer. After washing your hands, you can use hand sanitizer for extra protection. In situations where it isn’t possible to wash your hands, hand sanitizer is your best substitute. Be sure to use an alcohol-free hand sanitizer so that you don’t dry out your hands further. Check out the SafeSpace Alcohol-Free Instant Hand Sanitizer. It includes emollients, which soothe and nourish the skin.
- Use a humidifier. Humidifiers can help you combat winter’s dry, damaging air. Use them in your home and your workplace to add moisture to the air. Not only will this prevent the spread of germs, but also you’ll likely notice a difference in the texture of your skin.
- Stay home when you’re sick. When you’re ill, be kind to the people in your community by staying home so that they don’t catch your germs. This is especially important if you work in a school or office, where germs run rampant in winter. And if you have children, be sure that they stay home from school when they’re sick.
- Visit your doctor when an illness persists. Finally, if you have a cold or flu that lingers and seems to be getting worse, make an appointment with your doctor. A diagnosis and a prescription should help get you on your feet again.
To keep your surroundings and your hands clean, turn to SafeSpace. The SafeSpace Company is a family-owned small business proudly selling American-made germ foggers, auto germ and odor eliminators, and alcohol-free hand sanitizers to keep your family safe and healthy. To avoid germs this winter, stock up on disinfectant essentials with the SafeSpace Germ Fighter Kit. You’ll get everything you need to stay healthy this season: hand sanitizers, disinfecting and deodorizing mists, and disinfectant foggers. For more information about SafeSpace, contact us online or call us toll-free at 1-800-735-2506.