Fact or Fiction, Wintertime Edition

By December 28, 2015Health Tips

See if you know the answer to these winter-related health issues, some true, some not:
Can a flu shot cause you to get the flu? 
A flu shot cannot cause influenza because it is either made with viruses that have been “inactivated” or with no flu vaccine viruses at all (recombinant influenza vaccine).  In a survey performed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, however, about a third of people who responded thought that it could. There are a number of reasons for this common misconception.  Rarely, the flu shot causes uncomfortable side effects such as fever, fatigue and muscle aches that could be interpreted as being the flu. Usually, however, the side effects are very mild, primarily consisting of soreness at the site of the injection.  A second reason for the misconception is because of the lag between receiving the shot and receiving immunity.  Since it can take up to 2 weeks for the flu shot to provide protection, it is possible that one could be exposed to the flu virus prior to the development of immunity.  Also, other viral illnesses, such as the common cold, are mistaken for the flu.  Lastly, since the flu shot is not 100% effective, it is possible that someone could contract the flu despite receiving the vaccination. A flu shot gives you the best chance for avoiding the flu, but it can’t guarantee that you won’t get sick.

 Is drinking alcohol and effective treatment for hypothermia? 
Despite the popular image of St. Bernard dogs carrying casks of brandy for treating avalanche victims in the Alps, alcohol is not effective for treating hypothermia.  Alcohol may feel like it warms the body, but that’s because it flushes the skin with warm blood. Once the blood is at the surface of the skin, heat is rapidly lost through convection. You feel warm to touch, but at the same time, you’re losing heat from your skin, so your core body temperature actually decreases.
Does becoming chilled cause a “cold”? 
It is commonly thought that becoming chilled can lead to a cold.  A few years ago, British researchers designed a study to look into this possibility. They took 180 volunteers, half of whom were required to immerse their feet in ice water for 20 minutes and the other half with their feet in an empty bowl.  Over the next four or five days almost a third (29 percent) of the chilled volunteers developed cold symptoms — compared to just 9 percent in the control group.  The explanation offered by the researchers was that when colds are circulating in the community many people are mildly infected but show no symptoms. Becoming chilled causes a pronounced constriction of the blood vessels in the nose and shuts off the warm blood that supplies the white cells that fight infection.  The reduced defenses in the nose allow the virus to get stronger and common cold symptoms develop.  Although the chilled subject believes they have ‘caught a cold’ what is believed to have happened is that a dormant infection has become activated.  Maybe your mother was right about bundling up in the wintertime!

Does hand washing help prevent catching colds?
You bet it does, as well as helping to prevent the flu, other common viral illnesses, and food poisoning.  Hand washing is one of the simplest, easiest, and most effective public health measures. Amazingly, it is also one of the most overlooked.  Examples of when hand washing be should be done include:

  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • When caring for someone who is sick or injured,
  • After using the bathroom
  • After touching your ears, nose, or mouth
  • After changing diapers

Health care experts recommend scrubbing your hands vigorously for at least 15 seconds with warm soap and water; about as long as it takes to recite the alphabet. This will wash away cold viruses and many other disease-causing germs. It also will help prevent accidentally passing those germs on to others.

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