Cold weather increases risk of flu, COVID-19

Find out how to best protect yourself during the winter months.
Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 5:50 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - With the holiday season almost here and the cold weather already on our doorstep, gatherings with friends and family aren’t too far behind.

It may be a myth that cold temperatures cause the cold or flu, but there is a hint of truth there. Viruses thrive in cooler conditions and stay active longer. it’s also more difficult for humans to fight illness. So when you gather together someone could easily share more than just side dishes, and strong guests will enter weak hosts.

To find out how bad some diseases could be during the winter months, scientists at UW Health study the disease’s effectiveness in the Southern Hemisphere, since Winter there hits first.

“Much higher levels of influenza, more hospitalizations with influenza, at this point the writing is on the wall,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, UW Health’s Chief Quality Officer.

Pothof says a vaccine will best prevent the spread, but warns it takes up to 14 days for antibodies to take effect.

“If you wait until flu is rampant across the State, either here in Wisconsin or in Illinois to get your flu shot, it will be too late. You’ll likely come down from flu before you can build the antibodies to protect yourself from it,” he told 23 News.

Getting sick during this season is common, and indoor holiday gatherings can heighten that risk. Some of those victims head to hospital emergency rooms for help, where doctors and other medical personnel are already strapped. Doctors recommend looking for other sites to get treatment, like a family care center.

“The ER’s are really busy, especially with the sicknesses going around and other medical problems they are having,” said Dr. Dipti Subharwal, a Family Medicine Physician with OSF Healthcare.

Subharwal says there are some warning signs you should look for if you’re thinking about going to the emergency room.

“Red flags which I would recommend patients to go to the emergency room for is if they’re having shortness of breath, they’re coughing so much that they can’t breathe, if they’re having chest pain, or especially in someone who already has a weakened immune system and they start having fevers,” she said.

To combat the crowd issue, OSF Healthcare launched Digital Nurse 24/7, a service allowing patients to talk with medical professionals before going to the hospital.

“If you’re having symptoms and really not sure about whether that’s the time you should go to the emergency room or wait for the Doctors office the next day, they can help guide you through it,” Subharwal said.

You can visit to access this service. You don’t have to have previously been a patient with OSF Healthcare.