01/14/07 — Doctor: Weather alone doesn't cause illness

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Doctor: Weather alone doesn't cause illness

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 14, 2007 10:29 AM

Weather forecasters expect temperatures to climb to the 80s today, and a Goldsboro doctor advises residents of all ages to wash their hands often and dress in layers if they do not want to end up sick.

Infections are prevalent during temperature swings, but they are not caused by the weather, said Dr. Clark Gaither of Goldsboro Family Physicians.

"Going out without a coat and running around barefoot doesn't give you a cold, but the temperature extremes cause physiological stress," Dr. Gaither said. "They can pull down your immune system and make you more susceptible. Infections are caused by infectious agents, viruses and bacteria, not the weather."

The immune system is just part of the problem, though. Gaither said winter forces people into close quarters where the many strains of cold viruses and the A, B and C flu strains can be shared. Then there are the parainfluenzas and any number of bacterial infections.

"They all share similar symptoms, and you can have either or both upper and lower respiratory tract infections caused by any of these bugs," he said.

For example, you can be meticulous about washing your hands. You're in a store, and you hand the cashier a $20 bill. She coughs into her hand and fishes around in the register for change, which she hands to you. Twenty minutes later, you scratch your nose.

"You've just transferred pathogens from her hand to your face," Dr. Gaither said.

His advice is don't touch your face unless you have washed your hands first.

"Even if it's on fire, you should wash your hands first," he said.

But don't stop there, Dr. Gaither added. It also helps to get a flu and pneumonia shot, because "the best treatment is prevention."

Fluctuations in temperature will continue, and the weather will keep providing uncertainty as to how to dress.

"If you dress too warmly, you sweat. It cools you, and you can lower your body temperature," Gaither said. He advises wearing layers of clothing that can be peeled off or returned as the temperatures fluctuate.

"If you have just one coat on, it's all or nothing."