Yes, they do. They all have little teeny tiny eyes that they use to look at you before they decide to infect you. And if they see that you have bare feet, they say to themselves, “I got one!” They then race each other to see who can be first in infect.
Of course, that’s silly.
[An edited repost.]
But it also seems to be the way that many people think.
How many times are we told that we’re going to catch a cold because we’re barefoot? It’s as if they really do think that germs have eyes and can tell the difference.
Yet, there does seem to be some connection between getting cold, and getting a cold. And getting your feet wet and cold does seem to be correlated with getting a cold. But correlation does not imply causation. So, what’s going on?
Here are three journal articles that deal with the issue.
- Acute cooling of the feet and the onset of common cold symptoms.
- An Explanation for the Seasonality of Acute Upper Respiratory Tract Viral Infections.
- Acute cooling of the body surface and the common cold.
Here’s what’s going on. Cold viruses prefer cooler temperatures, so in the winter-time, breathing in all that cold air can give them an environment in which they can really take off. And if you get chilled, your nasal cavity will also cool down, again giving them a favorable environment.
[It turns out that there is even more going on. The rhinovirus also takes advantage of a quirk of our immune systems: It just doesn’t work as well when it is chilled. In the nose, it ends up not making an essential protein and that allows the virus to reproduce more quickly. You can read this popular article, Unraveling the Key to a Cold Virus’s Effectiveness, which points to the new research paper, Temperature-dependent innate defense against the common cold virus limits viral replication at warm temperature in mouse airway cells.]
Finally, yes, if you have soaking wet feet, that can contribute to having the body cool down. But you really need to wear shoes to do a good job of having soaking wet feet.
But while there can be causation from having wet feet, there doesn’t have to be causation, and it certainly doesn’t have to have anything to do with going barefoot.
First of all, we know that we can be quite comfortable in the cold with bare feet. All you have to do is keep your core temperature up, and all the exercise that your feet are getting (and that they don’t get when artificially constrained within a shoe) helps pump that warm core blood to them. I’ve addressed that before in I’ve Got CIVD.
If your feet are cold, put on a hat. You can lose a lot of heat through an uncovered head (particularly if your hair is thinning the way mine is :-)). Make sure your legs are well covered; I know barefooters who wear leg warmers underneath their pants, and it is a really good idea. Wear a well-insulated, windproof jacket. All of these tips will allow you to stay barefooted in cooler temperatures without sacrificing core temperature and making you susceptible to any sort of cold.
There is even a way that going barefoot can even help provide (just) a bit of protection from the cold. That is in the area of wet feet. If you get wet feet with shoes on, they’re sitting in that staying cooled off. I’ve seen folks hiking who’ve gotten water in over the top of their shoes, and all they can really do is keep hiking (and sometimes deal with resultant blisters).
But if you are barefoot and your feet get wet, they dry off almost immediately. Next thing you know, they are warm again. Oh, and no blisters.
One more hint in case you do get a cold: chicken soup. If you think about it, the warm vapors will warm your nasal passages and make your nose a less hospitable place for those cold viruses to reproduce. Of course, it doesn’t have to be specifically chicken soup. Any warm vapors will do, even holding your face above a pot of simmering water (don’t overdo it!) ought to affect the cold viruses.
So, germs don’t have the eyes, but bare feet have the “ayes”.