Sneezing, scratchy throat, runny nose-everyone knows the first signs of a cold,
probably the most common illness known. Although the common cold is usually
mild, with symptoms lasting 1 to 2 weeks, it is a leading cause of doctor visits
and missed days from school and work. According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, 22 million school days are lost annually in the United
States due to the common cold.
In the course of a year, people in the United States suffer 1 billion colds,
according to some estimates.
Children have about 6 to 10 colds a year. One important reason why colds are
so common in children is because they are often in close contact with each other
in daycare centers and schools. In families with children in school, the number
of colds per child can be as high as 12 a year. Adults average about 2 to 4
colds a year, although the range varies widely. Women, especially those aged 20
to 30 years, have more colds than men, possibly because of their closer contact
with children. On average, people older than 60 have fewer than one cold a year.
More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the symptoms of the common
cold. Some, such as the rhinoviruses, seldom produce serious illnesses. Others,
such as parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus, produce mild infections
in adults but can precipitate severe lower respiratory infections in young
Rhinoviruses (from the Greek rhin, meaning “nose”) cause an estimated
30 to 35 percent of all adult colds, and are most active in early fall, spring,
and summer. More than 110 distinct rhinovirus types have been identified. These
agents grow best at temperatures of about 91 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature
inside the human nose.
Scientists think coronaviruses cause a large percentage of all adult colds.
They bring on colds primarily in the winter and early spring. Of the more than
30 kinds, three or four infect humans. The importance of coronaviruses as a
cause of colds is hard to assess because, unlike rhinoviruses, they are
difficult to grow in the laboratory.
Approximately 10 to 15 percent of adult colds are caused by viruses also
responsible for other, more severe illnesses: adenoviruses, coxsackieviruses,
echoviruses, orthomyxoviruses (including influenza A and B viruses, which cause
flu), paramyxoviruses (including several parainfluenza viruses), respiratory
syncytial virus, and enteroviruses.
The causes of 30 to 50 percent of adult colds, presumed to be viral, remain
unidentified. The same viruses that produce colds in adults appear to cause
colds in children. The relative importance of various viruses in pediatric
colds, however, is unclear because it’s difficult to isolate the precise cause
of symptoms in studies of children with colds.
There is no evidence that you can get a cold from exposure to cold weather or
from getting chilled or overheated.