It is estimated that adults will suffer from two to four colds per year while children, whose immune systems are still learning to fight cold viruses, can get up to 10 colds annually.1
You might wonder why a cure for such a common illness hasn’t been found yet. Here’s why.
Cold Symptom "Cures" from the Past
Since ancient times, we’ve been trying to relieve cold symptoms. Here are some “cures” that ancient civilisations tried:
- In 400 BC, Hippocrates noted that bleeding was a frequently used treatment for colds.
- In the 1st century AD, Roman philosopher Pliny recommended that cold sufferers “kiss the hairy muzzle of a mouse."2
Discovering the Cause
For centuries, no one knew what caused cold symptoms. Healers thought colds were caused by poison or “slimy liquid.” Sea voyagers and explorers were the first to discover how cold viruses spread. While travelling, they observed that people living in isolated communities were free of colds until they made contact with the outside world. However, it was not until the 19th century that scientists actually began researching cold and flu viruses.2
Developing Cold-Symptom Relief
In the early 20th century, scientists gradually unlocked the secrets of bacteria and viruses, began understanding the importance of immunisation, and developed flu vaccines and medicines for cold symptoms.
Why No Cure?
With so much research available, why is there still no cure? The answer lies in the fact that there are so many strains of viruses that can cause cold symptoms. In fact, there are more than 200 different viruses that can replicate in the respiratory tract and produce cold symptoms in the respiratory organs. The rhinovirus alone, which researchers estimate is responsible for about 40 percent of common colds, has approximately 100 different strains. Other symptom-producing respiratory viruses include the coronaviruses (responsible for 10 percent), respiratory syncytial viruses (10 percent to 15 percent), adenoviruses, parainfluenza viruses, and enteroviruses.7
Unlike a disease such as smallpox or polio, there is no universal treatment in a single vaccine that can target all of the viruses. Constant developments in the natural world, such as infections passing from animals to humans (such as avian flu), always present fresh challenges.
Although the common cold is usually not life threatening, its pervasiveness around the world and the misery caused by its symptoms underscore the need for research and the importance of readily available treatments to relieve the cold symptoms or intervene in the cold virus to defend against cold attacks. 1 Common Cold. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Retrieved 21 May 2009. http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/commoncold
2 Gwaltnery, J.M. Medical Reviews: Rhinoviruses, The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 48,17-45. 1975.
3 Bennett, J.S., Chung, K.T. Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin. Advances in Applied Microbiology. Academic Press: 168-172. 2001.
4 Tyrrell, D., Fielder, M. Cold Wars: The Fight Against the Common Cold, Oxford University Press, 2002.
5 Kuszewski, K., Brydak, L. The epidemiology and history of influenza, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 54:188-95. 2000.
6 Palmenberg, A.C., Spiro, D., Kuzmickas, R., Wang, S., Djikeng, A., Rathe, J.A., Fraser-Liggett, C.M., Liggett, S.B. Sequencing and Analysis of All Known Human Rhinovirus Genomes Reveals Structure and Evolution, Science. 324(5923):55-9. 3 April 2009.
7 Treanor, J., Hayden, F. Infectious Diseases of the lungs—Viral Infections, Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, 3rd Edition. W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, 1:932. 1988.