Can You Get Sick From Being In The Rain?

There is an old belief that you will fall sick by getting wet in the rain. From generations, we have heard this saying from our mothers and grandmothers that playing outside in the rain will make you sick. While everyone believes that there is an association between being out in the rain and falling ill, there is actually no evidence to prove this correct. Getting wet or chilly will not cause you to fall sick. However, certain factors can contribute to you falling ill after being in the rain, but the rain itself will not make you catch a cold or fall sick. Let us take a look at the reality behind this age-old belief and whether you can get sick from being in the rain.

Can You Get Sick From Being In The Rain?

Can You Get Sick From Being In The Rain?

Water, in any form, be it cold or hot, cannot make us sick. So being caught outside in the rain is never going to be a direct cause of making you sick.

The temperature shift that often occurs when it rains causes many viruses and bacteria to flourish. It is these viruses that end up making people sick, not the actual rain.
Rhinovirus and the coronavirus are two of the primary agents responsible for the common cold. These viruses have been shown to thrive in colder weather, such as what we experience when it rains. Similarly, the influenza virus is also able to thrive and replicate faster when the air is cold.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), millions of people in the United States alone end up developing the common cold every year.(1) On average, most healthy adults suffer from two to three colds in a year.

Rhinoviruses, the most common cause of the common cold, are known to be responsible for nearly half of all the colds and other cold-like illnesses.(2)

When you are infected by a rhinovirus, you will experience mild cold-like symptoms, though rhinoviruses can also cause other severe diseases, including pneumonia and bronchitis. However, these are more likely to affect people with weakened immune systems.(3)(4)

Rhinoviruses tend to quickly spread through direct person to person contact. They can also get transmitted by the air in the form of an aerosol or small droplets, which people then inhale.(5)

Once you inhale the virus, it attaches itself to the cells present inside the nose. Then it begins to multiply and spread more virus particles throughout the entire upper respiratory tract.

The reason why most people associate sickness and rain is because they usually start experiencing or noticing their symptoms after being in the rain. If a person begins to feel certain flu-like symptoms, it is not because they got wet in the rain. It is because they have already been exposed to a virus and had been experiencing these symptoms previously as well, but they did not feel them strongly yet.

It is possible for a person to carry a viral infection and not experience symptoms immediately. However, factors such as the cold weather or rain kick start the immune system of the body, allowing the person to fully develop the symptoms – thus feeling sick properly.

What Does Research Say?

A study carried out by Cardiff University’s Common Cold Center involved 180 participants during the flu season.(6) One-half of these participants were told to place their feet in a bowl of ice and cold water for 20 minutes. The other half of participants, which was the control group, were told to place their feet in an empty bowl for the same amount of time.

After a few days, the study found that a third (29 percent) of the volunteers who placed their feet in ice-cold water ended up developing a cold. Only 9 percent of the participants from the control group developed cold symptoms.

While the study showed that participants who were exposed to cold and wet conditions had a higher incidence of falling sick, but the drawback of the study was that it had not recorded whether any of the participants were already exposed to or already had the virus but were not experiencing any symptoms before taking part in the research.

Another 2016 study done by the University of Oulu in Finland examined whether or not the variations in humidity and temperature led to an increased risk of developing rhinovirus infection. The research team discovered that drop in humidity and temperature during three days led to a higher risk of rhinovirus infection amongst the participants.(7)

The same study also found that the majority of infections took place at temperatures that were at 32oF or zero degrees Celsius and below.

An animal study done on guinea pigs revealed that the ideal temperature for the transmission of the influenza virus is at 5oC or 41oF.(8)

Exposure to the rain by itself cannot cause a person to fall sick. But, it adversely affects the body’s immune response, making it more difficult for the body to fight against infections. This is one of the key reasons why you suddenly start feeling sick after being in the rain.

Conclusion

Being out in the rain does not make you catch a cold or fall sick. Viruses and bacteria are the reason why you get sick. Having these germs present in the body already, but not experiencing the symptoms, and then being out in the rain will help these symptoms to the fore. You may not be feeling any of the apparent signs of a cold or flu, but being exposed to the cold triggers them, making you suddenly feel the symptoms. This is why most people believe that being out in the rain or cold makes them fall sick.

Cold temperatures, even a slight drop in temperature when it rains, helps viruses thrive, causing them to multiply and spread rapidly. This is the reason why your symptoms suddenly become aggravated after being exposed to lower than average temperatures.

So while there is a link between being out in the cold or rain and falling sick, but they are not directly related.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Common Colds. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/index.html [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
  2. Jacobs, S.E., Lamson, D.M., George, K.S. and Walsh, T.J., 2013. Human rhinoviruses. Clinical microbiology reviews, 26(1), pp.135-162.
  3. Cavanagh, D. and Naqi, S.A., 2003. Infectious bronchitis. Diseases of poultry, 11, pp.101-119.
  4. Ruuskanen, O., Lahti, E., Jennings, L.C. and Murdoch, D.R., 2011. Viral pneumonia. The Lancet, 377(9773), pp.1264-1275.
  5. Couch, R.B., 2001. Rhinoviruses. e LS.
  6. Edition.cnn.com. (2020). CNN.com – ‘Wrap up’ advice to stop colds – Nov 14, 2005. [online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2005/HEALTH/11/14/cold.chill/index.html [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
  7. Ikäheimo, T.M., Jaakkola, K., Jokelainen, J., Saukkoriipi, A., Roivainen, M., Juvonen, R., Vainio, O. and Jaakkola, J.J., 2016. A decrease in temperature and humidity precedes human rhinovirus infections in a cold climate. Viruses, 8(9), p.244.
  8. Lowen, A.C. and Steel, J., 2014. Roles of humidity and temperature in shaping influenza seasonality. Journal of virology, 88(14), pp.7692-7695.

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