Thirty years ago, I had just been appointed chair of PHYSICAL MEDICINE AND REHABILITATION at the University of Vienna and was about to move – as the first clinical department – into the brand new AKH (General Hospital) of Vienna thus gradually enlarging the team I had taken over from about 20 to 120 co-workers. During this period, I found little time to do original research; however, I did manage to finally write up and publish a study, we had conducted several years before while I was still in Munich. As it is (almost) on the subject of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), and as it relates to the prevention of a viral infection, I think it might be of interest to give it another outing.
Here is its abstract:
The high morbidity of common colds means that their economic importance is considerable, with colds causing more loss of productivity than any other infection. As no effective prophylaxis is available, this trial was to test the hypothesis that sauna bathing can reduce the incidence of common colds. Twenty-five volunteers were submitted to sauna bathing, with 25 controls abstaining from this or comparable procedures. In both groups the frequency, duration and severity of common colds were recorded for six months. There were significantly fewer episodes of common cold in the sauna group. This was found particularly during the last three months of the study period when the incidence was roughly halved compared to controls. The mean duration and average severity of common colds did not differ significantly between the groups. It is concluded that regular sauna bathing probably reduces the incidence of common colds, but further studies are needed to prove this.
In the discussion section of the paper, we stated the following:
Preventive methods with comparable efficacy have not been described in the literature (2, 12). Vitamin C is of doubtful value (7, 15, 16); vaccination is not feasible since far too many virus types exist (2, 17); virucidal kerchiefs are effective (8, 18) but not available commercially and protect only the environment of a common cold sufferer rather than the sufferer him-/herself.
I believe most of this is still true today (but I might be wrong, as I did not keep up with this particular line of research). Re-reading the paper, I find that our trial was far from optimal:
- we had to conduct it with zero funding,
- it was small,
- it was not randomised,
- it lacked objective endpoints.
Anyway, sauna bathing is most agreeable, and I can recommend it just for this reason. However, I would doubt that public saunas are a good idea during the present health crisis.
Please, stay safe!