A few months ago I caught a cold while having heart surgery. Damned doctors, why don’t they cover their surgical masks when they sneeze? But I felt relieved that at least I didn’t catch the coronavirus.
And yet, I did. That’s because the common cold is actually a human coronavirus. It’s not the bat, pangolin, or lab-created monster virus that has been ravaging the world lately, but it is still technically classified as a coronavirus.
So we’ve all had the coronavirus, and most of us many times. I don’t know of anyone who’s never caught the common cold.
Years ago I read an interesting book entitled Ah-Choo! by Jennifer Ackerman. It was published in 2010, and a Kindle version is still available on Amazon. I recently came across a book review I wrote about it, for another blog. I had a cold at that time, so it was a rather snotty book review, as you can imagine. So keep a little distance from your computer, as I resurrect this review.
Ah-Choo is all about the common cold. It isn’t about how to cure it though, because there was no cure at the time the book was published, and sadly there still is no cure. I guess we’re too damned busy trying to cure that other coronavirus, to be working on this one.
But Ah-Choo contains many fun and informative facts about the common cold.
For instance, adults get 2 to 4 colds per year, and children up to 12 times a year. And the average person gets about 200 colds in their lifetime. This means that if the average cold lasts 14 days, we spend over 7 ½ years of our lives sniffling, wheezing, coughing, and feeling miserable.
But maybe it’s not that bad, because one of the mysteries of science is that one out of four people infected with the cold virus are asymptomatic. Sound familiar? Kind of reminds me of Covid-19. These asymptomatic infections cut the 7 ½ years of misery down to about 5 ½ years. But we spend the other two years spreading our colds around to others, without realizing that we, ourselves are infected.
All it takes is one little rhinovirus particle to infect us with the cold. The path of infection often comes from finger to nose or finger to eye. We tend to touch our face about 16 times per hour, so the cold virus has become well adapted to the nervous predilections of human beings. And if you suffer from rhinotillexomania (habitual nose picking), your chances of picking up the virus are greatly magnified.
Strangely, the cold virus doesn’t actually damage any cells of the body. Rather, it triggers the immune system to set off an inflammatory cascade. It goes into overdrive, and the misery we experience is from its attempt to rid our body of the virus. In other words, our body’s cure can be worse than the actual malady. Just like some Covid-19 restrictions. At least, in my opinion.
Nobody has ever cured the common cold, but lots of remedies have been tried. In ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder recommended kissing the hairy muzzle of a mouse. In colonial America the prescription was to soak your feet in cold water, and shove orange rinds up your nose. Nasal irrigation has been touted. And chlorine gas was once thought to do the bug in, at one time leading President Calvin Coolidge to sit in a chlorine gas chamber for a full hour, inhaling the deadly vapors. Any longer and he might have for sure lived up to his nickname of “Silent Cal.”
Antibiotics don’t work either, and can be dangerous to use when unnecessary. But codeine cough syrup has been shown to put snotty-nosed children to sleep. It’s not particularly good for them, and it doesn’t cure the cold, but it does keep those fucking brats from running around loose, dripping cold virus all over the carpet.
Beware of the many mountebanks that tout expensive cold medicines. Nostrums containing ingredients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, and Echinacea enjoy little scientific support. And be very skeptical about any remedy that claims to boost the immune system. Remember, cold symptoms are actually caused by the immune system already going overboard. The last thing anyone would want to do is give it a boost.
The treatment that seems to be recommended most by ethical medical experts is the use of single ingredient medications to treat individual symptoms. In other words, instead of taking a capsule that treats many symptoms at once, they say we should take something like an aspirin for a headache, and an antihistamine for a runny nose and sneezing.
The best, most effective cure for the common cold is time. This is because time is the only cure. So save money and avoid buying expensive snake-oil remedies. Follow the science when it says to take individual medications to treat individual symptoms. And call in to work. Relax at home and read the 245 pages of Ah-Choo!
But if your boss discourages calling in, then by all means, go to work. And stand very close to your boss when you sneeze. Perhaps this will encourage a change in policy.