EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 18, 2008

Forget what mom said: You can't catch colds from a wet head or chilly home

By Lisa A. Flam , Associated Press

It may have been your mother, grandmother or a well-meaning friend, but chances are, you've been warned: Don't go outside with wet hair in the winter or you'll catch a cold.

Or maybe you were told that just being cold - whether outside in low temperatures or inside a chilly house - can make you sick.

"There are people who say, 'He didn't wear his coat outside and that's why he's sick,' or 'I told him he needed to wear a hat,'" says Jim King, a family physician. "There's a lot of people that think that."

But the bottom line is, the cold doesn't give you a cold.

"All colds, flus, whatnot are caused by an infection, either a virus or bacteria," King says. "It has nothing to do with temperature in the room, whether it be hot or cold. It's an exposure to an organism you're not resistant to."

While you can catch a cold anytime, most colds and flus do occur in the winter. The common thinking is that with people spending more time inside, especially children in school, there is more exposure to viruses that cause colds, and illness is spread more quickly in the winter than in warmer seasons.

"They are more common this time of year, plus you are more likely to be exposed to other people because of an enclosed environment," says King, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Children get, on average, three to eight colds a year, according to Medlineplus, a health information Web site from the federal government.

Researchers in New York published findings in October that try to answer why flu season comes in the colder months. They found that the flu virus is more stable and stays in the air longer when the air is cold and dry.

Still, old views about how you get sick live on.

Suleika Rosario, a native of the Dominican Republic who lives in New York, says she did not let her three teenage sons go out with wet hair when they were younger because she feared they would get sick. Did they believe her?

"I don't think so," she says. "But they listened to me."