Health Watch - Colds and Flu: Spreading Fear

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.


This week on Health Watch, we’ve been talking about cold and flu season and how you can prevent and treat colds and flu. One recommendation for protecting yourself is to stay away from sick people. That may lead you to worry when you hear someone sneeze.

That’s perfectly normal, but recent psychological research has shown that something as simple as a sneeze can cause people to overreact and fear for their health, even for things that have nothing to do with a cold. Dr. Deborah Wiebe, a psychologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says physical symptoms – like sneezes – are important clues about our health but can also be misinterpreted. Other people’s symptoms may make us more aware of our own vulnerability and trigger conscious and unconscious fears of illness. To keep from overreacting, follow the advice you know can help you minimize danger, like getting a flu shot, washing your hands and taking vitamins.

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January 2011


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