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Can weather changes actually make you sick?


Can we actually get sick from drastic changes in weather?

That question is popping up amid flu season as Mother Nature takes the Lower Hudson Valley on a roller coaster ride from snow last weekend to 70-degree temperatures on Wednesday and likely back below freezing by Thursday night. We may feel some headaches or a bit under the weather during these changes, experts say, but the sudden shifts do not directly cause illnesses.

"It can't actually make you sick," said Dr. Noble Jacob, a physician at Crystal Run Healthcare's West Nyack office. "There is no evidence to show that fluctuations of weather have been making people sick." The weather has varied significantly in the past week; almost eight inches of snow fell last Saturday and Sunday, which was followed by record-high temperatures on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Wednesday's sun and 70-degree temperatures have given way to a rainy Thursday morning that is only expected to see temperatures reach the mid-40s, with the potential for freezing rain and sleet this afternoon. Temperatures could drop down to around 30 degrees tonight, and we could see some freezing rain and sleet during Friday morning's commute, according to the National Weather Service.

"It's not uncommon," Paul Walker, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, said about the sudden shifts in weather. "We have seen this before in February."

The old saying about catching a cold as temperatures drop or fluctuate dramatically does not hold true, Jacob said, because getting sick, for the most part, still comes down to coming into physical contact with bacteria or viruses. Changes in weather can weaken your immune system, though, and viruses such as influenza thrive in temperatures ranging from the 30s to the 50s, Jacob said, so colds are more prevalent this time of year. People often catch colds more frequently in the winter, though, because they're cooped up inside, said Dr. Sherlita Amler, Westchester County health commissioner. "When they're indoors in confined spaces, it's easier for viruses to spread," she said.

Though today's temperatures are a sharp jump from the recent cold, the warm weather can actually help in the fight against winter illness, Amler said. Opening windows, getting outside and having more physical space between people can be a benefit in the battle against germs. "Most people weather that change relatively well," she said. People with asthma sometimes struggle with drastic changes in temperatures, Amler said. Anyone trying to avoid winter sickness should dress appropriately for whatever weather is in the works, she said, and most importantly, wash their hands. "That's really the best thing people can do to stay healthy," she said, "no matter what the temperature is." In addition to washing their hands often, people can help their cause by exercising, getting good sleep and eating healthy, Jacob said. "This will help promote a good immune system," he said. Another factor is getting the flu shot, which Jacob said he received in September. He said he has since come into contact with hundreds of flu patients and has not contracted the virus, despite not wearing a mask around the patients. The Westchester County Department of Health is offering the flu vaccine, and appointments can be made by calling 914-995-5800.

Crystal Run is partnering with state Sen. David Carlucci to host a free flu clinic from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday at its facility at 2 Centerock Road in West Nyack.


Reported by Lohud.