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March Temperature Extremes Not a Factor in Spread of Common Cold

March features huge temperature swings as winter and spring battle it out across the United States.

It is also a time when people say they get sick due to the drastic temperature changes.

Doctors, however, say there is no correlation between the weather changes and illnesses.

"This is a myth that is very commonly heard, however," Dr. Wanda Filer, a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians' board of directors, said. "It is known that seasonal flu viruses circulate faster in cold weather, when the air is cold and dry."

The most dramatic temperature drops occur in March, AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Dave Dombek said.

"This is the time for 'March Madness' in college basketball. It's also March madness in weather; March is notorious for huge swings," Dombek said.

Between March 10 and 12, the daytime high in Abilene, Texas, went from 76 F to 92 F then down to 59 F.

The wild swing also occurred in Washington, D.C., from March 12 to 14. The high went from 69 F to 36 F and back to 60 F.

In the winter, people spend more time indoors and in close contact with others, Dr. Charles Cutler, chair of the American College of Physicians' Board of Regents and a practicing internist, said.

"Being in close proximity to another person makes it more likely that the germ will spread from person to person," Cutler said.

People may be more aware of colds this time of year because they have plans to get out and enjoy nice weather, which are delayed when they are not feeling well, said Filer, Pennsylvania's first physician general.

"Cold and flu season usually lasts until at least mid-March almost every year," Filer said. "Most adults will get two to three colds in an average year and symptoms can easily last 10 or more days."

Pollen counts start to rise this time of year, but allergies are not a factor with the illnesses, Cutler said.

"Most colds are viral. They spread from one person to another through the air (by coughing into the air) or on one's hands/fingers," he said.

"Many people, however, can suffer sinus symptoms with changes in barometric pressure and may interpret this as a cold or allergies, since congestion and headaches may result. When the temperature changes, they may associate it incorrectly with their symptoms," Filer said.

With colds being a year-round reality, hand washing is the most important thing a person can do to protect others and themselves.

"If soap and water is not used, then the antiseptic hand gels are needed. Also, never share food utensils, glassware, etc.," Cutler said. "Eating or drinking from someone else's plate is high risk for spreading cold germs."

Avoiding exposure to illnesses is key.

"Avoid others who are ill, especially in the first few days of their illness when they are communicable, and stay home if you are sick and could put others at risk (especially if you have any fever)," Filer said.