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'How Did I Get Sick in Lockdown?'

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February 12, 2021
From the WebMD Archives

It’s a baffling situation: You’ve been following all of the COVID-19 precautions (you’re home almost all the time, for goodness sake!), but, still, you somehow caught a cold. You might wonder, how the heck did I get sick in lockdown?

While wearing a mask (or two) in public, washing your hands frequently, and self-isolating all help decrease the spread of COVID-19, you can’t totally eliminate your risk of picking up a virus. Viruses exist in numbers too vast for the human brain to comprehend. Microbiologists have estimated that there are 1x1031 viruses on earth. That’s enough viruses to “stretch for 100 million light years” if they were laid end-to-end. This means it’s virtually impossible to avoid coming into contact with some sort of virus, no matter how hard you try. And many of the viruses that make us sick -- especially those that cause the common cold -- are more contagious, and tougher to kill, than COVID-19.

Still, how can you pick one of those billions upon billions of viruses when you’re barely ever venturing out in public? A couple of ways.

The most likely source of infection is a fellow human being. Some viruses may be easier to pick up than the novel coronavirus. For instance, you can inhale common cold viruses (yes, even through a cloth mask) by even briefly contacting an infected person, or that person might cough and deposit the virus into the membranes of your eye, causing you to get sick later.

You also can pick up rhinoviruses (one group of viruses responsible for the common cold) from touching contaminated surfaces, such as your mail, grocery items, doorknobs, and any other item previously touched by an infected person. This route of transmission is less likely, but it’s not impossible.

So, yes, it’s entirely possible to catch a cold or the flu during lockdown. But that doesn’t mean your efforts to avoid getting sick are wasted. Wearing masks, washing your hands frequently, and physically distancing from other people are proven to slow the spread of COVID (and possibly influenza; the case rate is down significantly this flu season), so keep doing them. And if you still catch a cold anyway, chalk it up to the sheer volume of viruses circulating -- and drink plenty of fluids.



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