As we have seen, a cold is a viral infection, caused by viruses known as rhinoviruses and the rhinovirus is a microscopic organism which invades the mucus cells of the nose, to disrupt their normal function and parasitically use these cells for viral reproduction.
As viruses are essentially genetic, this entails that they can also mutate, and there are now about 250 known rhinoviruses in the community, which means that there are 250 colds flying around out there for you to catch: but so far, only the immune system can find a cure for each of these strains – ironically, only when you’ve actually had the cold of that particular strain.
However, once you have been infected with a strain, your immune system develops anti-bodies to it. You therefore get each cold strain only once: but then as you know, one cold is one too many and as you have probably summarized – there might be 249 others out there for you yet to get. So, if you are lucky enough to live until you are seventy, that is an average of just over 3 colds per year.
On average, however, a person gets two colds a year, so this guarantees that, in the absence of any general cure, you are likely to spend several days of each year of your life not only harboring these viruses, but also suffering from their grotty symptoms and even helping the bastards to thrive and reproduce among your nasal passage, your family, work mates, friends and acquaintances, and of course strangers too.
The cold virus produces the following symptoms; some of which require elucidation:
THE SORE THROAT
THE TICKLY THROAT
THE SOCIALLY UNACCEPTABLE COUGH
THE BLOCKED SINUSES
THE SOCIALLY UNACCEPTABLE RUNNY NOSE
THE SOCIALLY AMBIGUOUS SNIFF
THE COMPLETELY 100% SOCIALLY UNACCEPTABLE SNEEZE
Let us deal with the more problematic of these.
The common cold itself is not a serious condition (except in the very young or elderly where it can lead to complications) and usually only lasts from two to seven days depending upon the virility of the strain and the physical condition of the victim.
However, the most miserable cold symptoms do not only affect the victim – two in particular ensure that the rhino-virus is kept alive and well as it reproduces, and eventually mutates: and they are the cough and the sneeze.
And as we have seen, viruses cannot move, so they must survive only by contact – and for this reason alone, they have to be clever enough to get the victim to spread them around. They can only enter into other peoples nasal mucus cells if they are somehow transported directly to these cells and this happens in two ways: either by direct contact through the hands, or, by droplet contamination in the air that prospective victims are breathing. And remember, ‘prospective victim’ means you. Let’s deal first with droplet contamination.
In the early stages of a cold, the virus affects the lining of the throat, and by multiplying mucus cells that then congest the walls of the throat, they cause that irritation you feel as a ‘tickle’. The ‘tickly throat’ causes you to cough in order to clear the irritation, but what is actually going on also is that this cough then carries the virus out of the victim.
A cough is a reflex action in the victim’s throat which is the result of a tickly irritation in the windpipe or throat and causes a contraction of the muscles at the front of the abdomen, which in turn puts pressure on the victim’s stomach and intestines. This pressure subsequently pushes the diaphragm, which compresses the lungs and forces air up the windpipe. The air is, of course, armored with the contamination of viruses, which pass through the throat and jettison a volley of droplets out into the immediate atmosphere at about seventy miles an hour.
There they begin their insidious search for new nostrils. If they cannot directly find them, they crouch upon surfaces, hands, knobs – tables, towels, cutlery, peanuts in the bar pot, until some unsuspecting finger touches these things, and then touches its nose – but in the meantime, the droplets in the air have probably been much more efficient…
So, as we see, coughs are pretty effective at viral dissemination – but nothing quite compares to the spray-boom efficiency of a stout sneeze.
Rhinoviruses have brought sneezing into the fine art form of reproductive efficiency we dodge around every day: sneezing is the super efficient spray – an involuntary spasm caused by the irritation of the genetically manipulated cells of the nasal passage, which cause the vocal chords to close until a high air pressure is built up in the lungs. The air in the lungs is then suddenly allowed to escape upwards, violently aimed at the back of the nose by the soft palette.
This pent-up pressure forces millions of mucus-clad viruses out of the nose in order to relieve the irritation – but the true purpose, of course, is to release through the mouth and nose a twelve bore shot of virally infected snot droplets which burst out at a hundred miles an hour to pollute up to thirty feet forwards in an ever widening spray of viral crap.
Clearly, if the average victim sneezes one hundred times in one room in one day, the air in that room will be saturated with about 4,000.000 snotlet droplets of viral contamination which float about looking for new nostrils before finally coming to rest, upon every surface – all looking to make contact with their next victim. And, as if to make this sneezing snot spasm all the more efficient, your simple act of breathing in will ensure that in one day your lungs SUCK past your nasal passages about 600 litres of contaminated air; and you pull in air about 12 times a minute – an open invitation for rhino-viruses to party, about 17,280 times a day! Viruses are clever things indeed.
Needless to say: coughs and sneezes definitely do spread diseases.
In a perverse way, the actual first ‘symptom’ of a rhino viral infection is a feeling of well-being, a feeling of ‘high energy’. Presumably what is at work here is the immune system boosting its resources at the chemical signals that an infection is on the way. The result is that the imminent victim feels this energised protective system preparing for battle by bolstering all defenses and this results in the feeling of well being. However, after twenty four hours of this comparative elation, reality sets in, and the first recognisable symptoms start to appear.
Usually the first sign or symptom of an infection is a shiver; a dry throat and attempts at ‘light’ suppressed sneezes.
Some hours later a mild ‘warm blood’ (though not increased temperature) fever may emerge, and mucus producing cells will have reproduced sufficiently to cause one or both nostrils to block or at least a ‘runny stream’ will be dribbling down the nose. It is interesting to note here that gravity pulls equally on each nostril to draw viral laden mucus running down the nose of a vertical victim in order to irritate its lining to make him sneeze.
As we have seen, sneezing is anti-social enough – but a blocked nose is, nevertheless, uncomfortable and forces one to breathe through the mouth. However, by this time, the victim should really be in bed (alone) where he will then find that gravity can begin to work to everyone’s advantage, for if the victim lies on his back, both nostrils will clear as the early symptom runny mucus will fall to the stomach and so clear the nasal passages. And, if the victim lies to one side, one nostril (the higher) will clear giving some relief for breathing.
(These attempts at gravitational relief to breathing will vanish as the cold takes hold – for the mucus will become too think to run freely). At this stage the victim tends to lie like an animal, waiting to get better – that is, to rely entirely upon the immune system to build antibodies which can then cure that particular strain of virus. And that can take up to four days.
As the rhino-virus invades the cells of the nose mucus, they reproduce, and the resulting trickle down the nasal passages irritates the lining of the nose, forcing us to find two options: either we can ‘blow’ our noses (voluntary sneezing) – though sometimes this tickling trick will actually trigger a sneeze (involuntarily), or we can ‘sniff’. To sniff is simply to breathe in sharply through the nose.
Here, the incoming wave of air pressure forces contaminated mucus further up into the nose, and, more horribly, into the back of the throat where it will usually get swallowed into the stomach. In all truth, though this activity of sniffing sounds disgusting, the rhinovirus relies upon the nose, and does the stomach no harm, since gastric juices actually kill the virus. In this way, the sniff, though socially snubbed, is not socially snubbing when it actually means that the victim is swallowing and thereby destroying his own virus privately, and the public are spared the alternative sneeze or the germ-waving hanky.
However, as a general rule of thumb, however socially acceptable a sniff may be from a dissemination of virus point of view, the original signal still holds: a sniff usually means rhino viral infection and serves therefore as a tell-tale warning to those in its vicinity.
From the early warning of the wet runny nose phase, immediate isolation must be sought. You’ve now caught the cold, so no cure, at present, is at hand – all you can do is stock up on medicines which will only alleviate the symptoms caused by the irrevocable army of viral invasions which are now going to use your upper respiratory system to survive and reproduce. Nothing in the world – no lozenge, no tablet, no syrup can stop the relentless reproduction of viral strings invading your nasal cells and prevent them from multiplying the virus: you’ve entered the land of the common cold invasion, and its RNA Army of DNA is on the offensive, bubbling up in your respiratory system – and it will continue so to do until your immune system can build up enough antibodies to stop the war. But this reinforcement is unlikely to arrive for three to five days or so – until when, after your nasal discharges turn thick and green, you can at last emerge from isolation – for then, and only then, do you have a sign – a sort of green light at the end of the nasal tunnel – that tells you that your body’s defense mechanisms are at last gaining their counter offensive: your immune system has now produced the appropriate antibody cure. And you will now never have that particular strain of the common cold for the rest of your cold-hating life.
Colds are notoriously antisocial – so once it is clear that you are incubating a cold virus, it is downright irresponsible of you to go to a doctor. He can give you nothing to cure your condition, only medicines to alleviate your symptoms – and the chemist can do that. But the effect of you sitting and sneezing in a warm stuffy, crowded doctor’s waiting room will only serve to ensure that at least some of its inhabitants will come out of that surgery with at least one more infection than they went in with.
In all humanity you owe it to the world to isolate yourself in a bedroom and get someone else to buy your medicines from the chemist. If you must talk to your doctor, use the ‘phone – but be sure to wipe it clean with Detol before you let someone else near it. If however, the symptoms persist beyond the usual two to seven days, or they get worse, and develop into streptococcus bacteria then you should call the doctor out to you – although by this stage the infectious stage of the cold per se has probably been passed (on to someone else).
As viruses have no intrinsic ability to move, they rely solely upon contact, and as we have seen, they effectively cause muscular spasms in us to hurl themselves out to the next set of cell hosts which they can invade and corrupt for their own reproductive ends.
Viruses attack specific parts of the body, and cold viruses generally enter only by the nose – they can enter via tear ducts, but rarely survive oral entry. So droplet contamination and finger contact are crucial for their survival: they rely upon those entrance tunnels strawberrying above your top lip.
Scientifically, here is an interesting point: why does the virus only attack nasal mucus cells or tear cells? What, for example, is in the genetic make up of the virus that it cannot enter saliva cells – or, conversely what is in the genetic make up of saliva cells that stops the virus from attacking them?
It is well known that saliva contains many anti bacterial and anti viral agents – this is why we lick wounds. Interestingly, Dr Sharon Wahl of the US National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, has found that the protein Secretory Leukocyte Protease Inhibitor plays a crucial roll in wound healing. When this protein is applied to non-healing wounds it has been found to reverse tissue destruction and hasten healing.
A clinical trial of the isolated protein as a treatment for skin wounds is currently under investigation. The protein, which is also found in bronchial and cervical fluids has anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Perhaps the science of genetics is too immature to resolve these questions, but, as we shall see later, these deliberations have important ramifications on the emphasis of our activity to find a cure. And while we’re on the supposed immunitive action of saliva: I have a friend who swears by the preventative action of licking two fingers and poking them up each nostril to line the nasal passage with saliva when near coughs and sneezes – he says he saves having colds by this socially unacceptable gesture, but perhaps it does serve as a practical, if disgusting medical precaution!
HANDKERCHIEFS: A WORD OF WARNING
We have seen that a sneeze or cough will fill the air with droplet contamination – which is readily breathed in by the next victim, but direct contact is a major source of spread and cannot therefore be overestimated. Handkerchiefs play a critical role in viral spread. The vast majority of handkerchiefs are white; this is perhaps because they have in the past been seen as signs of surrender to the invasion of the rhinovirus but, in reality all handkerchiefs should be red, for they are, for all practical purposes, the flag which signals – “I am using this rag to blot my rhinovirus!”
This advice is by no means fatuous – for hanky’s would then serve as a warning to us all that they are swabs full of cold viruses which are threateningly shaken into the air, and of course handled, whereby they pass the virus into the air and onto the hands – so, we shake the hand of a victim, breath the air, touch our noses, sniff and hey presto: the reproductive job is completed.
Speaking of hankies – it is particularly important that their convenient counterparts, tissues, are avoided at all costs during a cold – and especially the use of cheap toilet tissue for blowing the nose. Tissues are a classic example of commercial interests using pseudo-scientific arguments to contribute to practical disasters: the argument is that tissues are used once only and disposed of, and thus are supposed to be more hygienic than a hanky where the latter is viewed by the tissue industry as an old fashioned and unhygienic germ trap, a viral flag. Yet in reality, tissue is made of paper, which is made from the pulp of wood.
As such, upon unfolding they emit thousands of tiny particles of cellular wood fiber, and these particles irritate the lining of the nose and will actually cause you to sneeze. In this way, not only do tissues actually make the symptoms of a cold worse, they positively contribute to its spread.
Frequent hand washing is also an essential part of combating the contracting of cold viruses. Because of the prevalence of droplet contamination, the vast majority of colds are caught from other members of the family or closely connected work colleagues, and, of course, fellow students and – in particular – from very young children who literally manually dribble over each other and handle each other and handle nose deposits and wipe them everywhere! For this latter category, it is crucial to isolate children (and teachers) at the very first suspicion of cold symptoms.
Apart from social groupings such as family, friends and workplaces or schools etc., the physical environment the virus finds itself in is critical. Viruses, being strings of RNA, are sensitive to temperature and as such a certain temperature range is essential to their survival, but is also very beneficial to their longevity. I believe I am right in saying that Europeans introduced the rhinovirus to Eskimos – and if this is true, then it is precisely because the virus could not survive in cold climates and had to rely upon direct nasal contamination.
(There is an interesting paradox here in that a lot of people report a higher incidence of colds during the winter – in fact, this experience reaffirms the idea that the rhinovirus is somehow ‘associated’ with cold temperatures. It is likely however, that in winter we all tend to congregate in warm places, and that this helps the virus to have longevity and helps us, through closer contact, to spread the virus.
It might, of course, also be the case that cold damp conditions actually reduce our tolerance to the symptoms of colds if we contract them through the winter months). Interestingly, one of the features of a winter cold is that it is generally more runny than the blocked up full cold of summer months. Presumably, the temperature most approximating to that available in the nasal passage – i.e., slightly lower than normal body temperature – is ideal.
Thus, in warm handkerchiefs or warm-air environments, presumably, conditions for external surface survival improve dramatically. It will be immediately conceded therefore, that central heating and in particular warm-air conditioning systems – very prevalent in offices, schools and factories – are a major contribution to the longevity of the rhinovirus.
A consequence of all this must be that living or working in stale, stuffy warm environments with people who have colds will mean that perfect conditions pertain for a maximum opportunity for viral dissemination. If this is true, then people who work outdoors – especially in cooler environments – should get fewer colds (an observation which I believe closely corresponds with the truth).
Hayfever has fairly obvious symptoms which differentiate the affliction from a cold. Histamines in the nose and throat and eyes cause the symptoms of hayfever (or allergic Rhinitis) and these are aggravated in early Summer by pollen in the air.
Hayfever is not generally accompanied by any ‘fever’ symptoms nor such obvious rhinovirus symptoms as tickly throat or sore throat. In hayfever, the symptoms of watery eyes continuous stuffy nose and frequent sneezing in bouts can be instantly relieved by antihistamines.
The symptoms tend to persist with the duration of high pollen count, and are more likely to be interpreted as a cold by others.
New research suggests that coffee can ease symptoms of hayfever. Low doses of caffeine can block allergic reactions triggered by pollen. One cup per day is enough to protect against anaphylactic shock, caused by pollen.
Keep a daily record of symptoms (sore eyes, sneezing frequently, blocked or runny nose) and compare these with pollen count reports. Symptoms corresponding to high pollen count will confirm hayfever.
Open fields and domestic pets.
Never let pets into the bedroom.
Dust mites also aggravate the problem: so vacuum frequently and wash bed linen frequently.
For children, freeze cuddly toys at temperatures lower than 10 degrees centigrade
feather mattresses and duvets
central heating in bedrooms