My nana called pneumonia, “PNEU-monya.” It slid off her lips with sluggish Southern charm, “Chile, you go outside in this, you’ll catch PNEU-monya.” I’d smile dismissively, double knot my sneaks and run off, laughing at silly, ‘ole Nana.
Now, I’m a mom. Forrest is only four months old and it’s February in New England. He must be dropping lbs in water weight from an interminably runny nose and his hands are freezing all the time. If he runs a fever, we have to go the ER, where he could need a spinal tap and will definitely be poked and prodded and hate me always. I’m sure of it.
The fresh air always makes us feel better, though, so we apply the same logic to young Forrest. Enough blaming cold weather for the common cold; we know better. We have iPhones and hashtags and the shared economy and we’re so progressive. Listen to us.
So, we wipe his nose, bundle him up, and head out, blanketed by our presumed rightness. Pneumonia, shmeumonia.
But, are we right?
I actually had no idea, so I did a little digging and it turns out, maybe not.
If I had written this a couple of years ago, I’d have reported that the only real line you can draw between cold weather and a rhinovirus is that when it’s cold, people tend to congregate in confined, indoor spaces, thus the virus is easily transmitted.
Today, the case is a little more complicated thanks to a team of scientists at Yale University, who apparently set out to vindicate Nanas everywhere.
In short, the researchers infected mice with a strain of rhinovirus, looking not at their immune system as a whole, but at the cells that line mouse airways specifically. At normal body temperature, the cells could defend themselves and their surrounding cells against the infection.
BUT, duh duh duuuuuhhh…
When the scientists dropped the temperature, the cells were compromised. Their defenses were much weaker, allowing the rhinoviruses to invade and even multiply.
Smart people are digging deeper into this revelation before conclusions are officially announced, but suffice it to say I’m a terrible mother and my crazy-pants Nana was right.
Okay, but really, what’s my personal conclusion? I’m not going to stop taking Forrest outside because it’s cold. That’s crazy talk in our neck of the woods. But, I am going to stock up on toasty, indoor activities for his sick days to give those airway cells a boost.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
What old wives tale have you adopted as truth?