Towards A New Understanding Of The Common Cold

The average person gets as many as five colds per year, and scientists still aren’t sure exactly why. Now, however, an Austrian study is making strides in understanding how the cold virus infects people, how the virus spreads, what steps people can take to avoid getting sick or infecting other people, and paths researchers looking for cures might try to take in that direction.

The microbes in the species that is most often the cause of the common cold are called rhinoviruses. The virus consists of a spherical shell called a capsid that encloses four types of proteins, which are responsible for the rhinovirus’s effects. However, exactly how they are responsible—how they get out of the capsid to make people sick—was not known until recently.

What the researchers found is that the virus changes its structure once it is inside the human body. This reshaping makes it possible for the proteins inside to get out and cause inflammation. This discovery may be the biggest advance in the medical understanding of the common cold since the rhinovirus genome was sequenced by American researchers in 2009.

Currently, there is no cure for rhinovirus-caused illnesses, though medications that help fight viruses in the same family as rhinovirus are being investigated. It should be noted that the symptoms you experience when you have a cold are the immune response—when you feel like you have a cold, your body is already doing all it can to fight the infection.

That’s why most treatments for the common cold focus on the symptoms. Nothing intended to shorten the duration of a cold has proven effective in laboratory testing. People with colds are therefore advised to get lots of rest, rink fluids, and avoid situations in which they may transmit the virus to another person. Medications can help alleviate the pain, sore throat, coughing, and itchy, runny, or stuffed nose.

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