In Corona Time, So Few Sniffles!

A silver lining for COVID-19 has been how well we are preventing the common cold.

Have you noticed that no one has been coughing, sneezing, or blowing noses in public places? You probably haven’t had a cold during these last few months either. Typically, we expect to come down with the sniffles at least once a season. But this year, most of us have remained completely free of the common cold. That’s because of COVID-19.

They Spread the Same Way 

Colds, like COVID-19, are caused by viruses that spread through close personal contact, via respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. And similarly, cold viruses also survive on surfaces for at least 24 hours, which means touching your eyes, nose and mouth is another way to spread infection.

Sound familiar? Since the beginning of March, all we’ve heard about was how the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads, and because it’s the same mechanism as the common cold, the precautions for one worked to prevent the other. 

But unfortunately, that’s where the similarity ends. 

A cold virus causes a sore throat, coughing, and runny nose within 24 hours of being infected, it’s seasonal and lasts about 7-10 days. In contrast, COVID-19 causes problems with the lungs and other organs in the body; it has an incubation period – the time that a person is infected but not symptomatic – that is two weeks longer than a cold, and it doesn’t seem to be seasonal. The majority of us recuperate from the common cold without any consequences, but COVID-19 can leave people with chronic problems long after they recover. Worst of all, some people don’t survive.

Although we tend to accept that having a cold at least once a year is inevitable, it’s not. We can avoid the common cold using the same habits that we’ve adopted to prevent COVID-19 infection. You know the drill: wear a mask, socially distance, and wash your hands. You should also disinfect frequently touched surfaces, avoid close contact with sick people, and avoid touching your face before your hands are clean. You can also prevent infecting others with your cold, by staying at home when you show symptoms, avoid close contact, and cough, sneeze, and blow your nose into a tissue and then throw it away.  And then wash those hands again. 

A Silver Lining – No More Nasty colds

There’s no cure or vaccine for the common cold, only symptomatic relief and prevention. But we know how to prevent them, by practicing our newly acquired anti-COVID-19 habits. Too high a price? Perhaps – these habits are a constant reminder of the pandemic, a time that most of us would like to forget. 

Still, why not adopt some of the measures – a sort of  ‘cold prevention light’.  When you’re sick or someone near you has a cold, just keep your distance: Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and keep your hands clean and away from your face. It may not be perfect, but it will make a difference. 

And there are surely better things to share than a cold. 

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Dr. Michelle Epstein
Michelle Epstein is a medical doctor graduated from the University of Alberta in Canada, who has specialised in Internal Medicine at the University of British Columbia and Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Yale University. Since 2004, she has been a Lab Leader at the Medical University of Vienna’s Division of Immunology.

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