The Common Cold: Just How Common is it?
Published: 17 March 2020
Published: 17 March 2020
The term coronavirus refers to a large family of viruses. While COVID-19 is a strain of coronavirus, it may be interesting to know that the coronavirus family can also cause the common cold (WHO 2020).
As its name suggests, the common cold (or upper respiratory tract infection) is a highly prevalent viral infection that can be caused by over 200 types of viruses. It affects the nose, ears and throat (Healthy WA n.d.).
Most cold-causing viruses belong to either the coronavirus or rhinovirus families. As there are so many viruses that can cause a cold, it is possible to have one cold after another from unrelated strains (Healthdirect 2018).
At this stage, it is not considered possible to be immunised against the cold due to the number of viruses that can cause it (Simancas-Racines et al. 2017).
The cold is considered the most common contagious disease in Australia, the most common reason for being absent from school or work, and the most common reason for seeing a general practitioner (Lung Foundation Australia n.d.).
Adults will often catch two to four colds per year, while children may get as many as five to ten as they lack immunity to many of the cold viruses (Healthdirect 2018).
Colds spread through droplets in the air from sneezing, coughing or talking, which enter the body through the eyes, mouth or nose. These droplets may also contaminate objects and surfaces (Mayo Clinic 2019).
Viruses can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours (NHS 2017).
Generally, an individual is contagious from one day before symptoms present and for the next five days of the illness (SA Health 2019).
The following factors may make you more likely to catch a cold:
(SA Health n.d.; Mayo Clinic 2019; Lung Foundation Australia n.d.)
The onset of symptoms is generally one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus. Depending on the person and cold, an individual may experience a combination of the following symptoms:
(Mayo Clinic 2019; Better Health Channel 2011; SA Health n.d.)
Thick, yellow or green nasal discharge is common as a cold progresses (Mayo Clinic 2019).
Colds are often confused with the flu (influenza), however, they are different illnesses caused by different viruses (Healthdirect 2018).
Flu symptoms are similar but overall more severe than cold symptoms;
(NHS 2017; QLD Health 2017)
There is no cure or specific treatment for a cold, but symptoms may be managed with the following strategies:
(NHS 2017; Better Health Channel 2011)
Antibiotics should not be used for colds as they are only effective against bacterial infections (NHS 2017).
Colds are generally not serious and will resolve on their own within a week to 10 days (Mayo Clinic 2019).
It is difficult to avoid getting a cold, but the best way to reduce the risk is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and practising good and thorough hand hygiene (Lung Foundation n.d.).
If you have a cold, try to avoid spreading it to others.
(NHS 2017; SA Health n.d.)
Question 1 of 3
How many viruses can cause the common cold?
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