The “common cold” is an illness that affects millions of Americans every year. We complain when we have colds, we do whatever we can to get rid of colds as fast as possible, and yet we typically choose to remain ignorant on the subject, feeding into the myths instead of the science.
A 2007 report by Blue Cross Blue Shield stated Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on preventing and treating the common cold, which could be any one of more than 200 viruses floating around the world. Of that, more than $1 billion goes toward antibiotics, though antibiotics have no effect on viruses. In fact, taking antibiotics when they’re not necessary creates immunity in the body, so that when you do need the help, the antibiotics may not work.
Vitamin C is another treatment many people do not question. In 1970, Linus Pauling, a scientist who had won two Nobel Prizes, wrote a book touting the miraculous benefits of Vitamin C taken in large doses, and from then on people have sworn by the treatment. Over the following decades, the scientific community has debunked most of Pauling’s findings by conducting dozens of trials and studies. Vitamin C does help the immune system, but taking more than 90 milligrams (about two oranges) per day will not make much of a difference.
Studies have found that larger doses of Vitamin C help one specific group of people stave off viruses. Marathon runners, mountain climbers and extremely physically fit humans do benefit from frequent ingestion of Vitamin C, but the rest of the populous does not.
In fact, the makers of Airborne, the popular cold-prevention supplement, paid out more than $20 million in lawsuits in 2008 for claiming the tablet could prevent the flu and other common illnesses. The best prevention for the common cold is awareness, not believing in unfounded myths, such as the myth of cold weather.
The word “cold” brings an immediate link between the virus and chilly temperatures, but going outside in January with no coat or wet hair will not cause a cold. These conditions may weaken your immune system, allowing a virus to more easily infect your system, but to catch a cold, you need to interact with other humans to pick up their germs. Winter does not cause colds, but the season does create infectious environments indoors – many people stuffed into small spaces with closed windows and poor ventilation. In these tight spaces, on the train, the bus, in the classroom, there are certain easy preventive methods to use.
If you’re sick you should try to sleep, take time off from work or school and stay away from others. Returning to the masses too soon can leave you open to more attacks. If you can’t stay home, try to be considerate of others. When you cough or sneeze, try to have a tissue ready, and if a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your shoulder. Many people seem to think sneezing or coughing into their hands is a sanitary move, but most colds are spread through contact-hands touching doorknobs, desks, bus rails or other hands.
On the other side of the issue, if you’re a healthy body moving in and out of infected masses, keep your hands clean. Viruses do spread through the air, but mostly people touch infected objects and later, before washing their hands, they touch their eyes, nose or mouth, allowing a virus to move from their hand to inside the body. Frequently washing your hands is the simplest and best way to prevent the flu or common cold.
People often wonder about the origin of the common cold. Did it come from animals and mutate into a human virus? Did humans always suffer from such an ailment?
In a 2008 article published in the Journal of General Virology, scientists in the Netherlands studied two viruses: HMPV (Human metapneumovirus), linked to measles, mumps and parainfluenza; and AMPV-C, an ancient bird virus. Through tests and genetic records, scientists traced the two viruses back 200 years to a cross-over point when the bird virus split off into a new human strain. Since then, we’ve been passing it back and forth within the human community. Despite this new knowledge of where colds came from, there is still no cure for the common cold, and with all of our modern technology and scientific breakthroughs, common sense is still the best treatment. A little awareness and attention to personal hygiene can go a long way to staying healthy and happy, and equal attention to myths and unfounded theories can go a long way to making things worse.