Why People Get Sick When the Seasons Change (and How to Avoid It!)

With the warmer parts of autumn finally giving way to chilly mornings and earlier sunsets, you might begin to notice a few people in your office starting to sneeze and sniffle. While the coldest parts of winter – the peak of cold and flu season – are still a few months away, that doesn’t mean you should be complacent about your health. A surprisingly high number of people fall sick during that little sliver of the year where summer becomes autumn, but why? And what can you do about it?

A more welcoming environment

The month-long period that straddles the end of summer and the beginning of autumn is a time of big environmental changes, and it’s precisely that shift that causes people to be so susceptible to illness. But despite the name, it’s not the drop in temperature that directly causes colds. The shift in temperature allows a different variety of viruses the chance to flourish. The rhinovirus and coronavirus – the two most common causes of the common cold – as well as the influenza virus all flourish is cooler, drier weather. While winter is definitely colder, in many parts of the world it’s also a lot wetter, making those 17°C, clear sky days perfect weather for catching something.

The perfect storm

On top of the most common causes of the common cold coming out to play, the beginning of autumn is also the beginning of allergy season for many unlucky Australians. While spring is normally seen as the peak season for allergies, it’s not just pollen that’s the trigger for hayfever. While not as common as grass pollen allergies, as many as one in five people experience hayfever symptoms from weed pollen, triggered by exposure to pollen from plants such as ragweed, parthenium weed, pellitory weed and Patterson’s curse.

The end result? Viruses are flourishing just at the time that much of the population is starting to sneeze and experience runny noses, turning many people in your office into potential cold and flu carriers.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for keeping cold and flu away during the season transition. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water frequently and always before touching your mouth, eyes or nose, stay hydrated to drying out your nose and throat and making them attractive to bugs, and keep eating, sleeping and exercising well. With a little bit of work and some luck, you’ll be the last person standing in your office when the change of season colds hit. 

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