Can Warm Weather Cause the Flu?

Medical experts expose the season's most popular cold and flu myths.

ByABC News
September 17, 2008, 2:52 PM

Jan. 11, 2007 — -- It's hard to tell what spreads faster during cold and flu season -- the viruses, or the myths surrounding them.

And with temperatures in the Northeast reaching record highs for this time of year, many wonder if this midwinter "heat wave" has anything to do with an apparent increase in cold and flu cases.

However, it turns out this speculation may be just another myth -- one of many that resurface every year once the sneezes, sniffles and sick days begin to peak.

"These notions have a life of their own," says Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.

"Virtually everything we 'know' about getting colds and the flu is myth," says Dr. Neil Brooks, former president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "The only things that prevent colds are hand washing and/or avoiding contact with other people, and I don't know if hand washing really works."

But though cold and flu myths may not be accurate or scientific, they could represent a completely natural part of how the public deals with some of the unknown aspects of colds and flu.

"Since many aspects of viral immunity are unknown, people may look to these alternative mythologies for an explanation of these phenomena," says Robert Garry of the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, La.

The science behind nearly every common knowledge tip about colds and the flu is shaky at best, disease experts say.

And yes, that includes this season's conjecture that warmer weather is contributing to an increased spread of cold and flu bugs.

"I know of no scientific information which suggests that warmer weather during the winter increases the chances of spreading influenza," says Stephen Cavalieri, director of microbiology at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Neb.