Ah-Choo! Author Injects Herself With Cold Virus


"There, in the soft tissue of the adenoids (aptly described as 'crypts'), the tiny invaders approach body cells a thousand times their size, like pirates in a small speedboat approaching an oil tanker. They get onboard by wily means, pretending to be something they're not. (Coast Guard? Tourists?) Cold viruses have evolved a specialized device for docking on a target host cell: little canyonlike grooves on their surface that fit perfectly with specialized receptors on the surface of your body cells (called ICAM-1 receptors). The fit is tight, like lock and key.

"Once the virus particles are docked, the sedition begins. They fool a body cell into thinking they're something useful, so the cell readily takes them in. And once they're onboard, like pirates, they take over the controls."

Author Jennifer Ackerman Gives Herself the Common Cold

If the body's immune system hasn't defeated it, the virus fools the body by releasing its genetic material into a body cell then reproducing hundreds of copies of the virus.

The first scratchy throat is actually the immune system's response to the infection, not the work of the cold. Within eight to 12 hours come the dripping nose, coughing, achy body symptoms, peaking in about 48 to 72 hours.

There may be a genetic component to who develops colds and who doesn't, says Ackerman. About 25 percent of those exposed to a cold will never get it.

Some studies have also shown that husbands and wives only transmit colds to each other 30 to 40 percent of the time.

Despite a $40 billion industry in cold therapies and herbal remedies -- vitamin C, echinacea, zinc -- nothing seems to stop the intrepid virus.

Part of the reason is lack of financing, according to the study's lead researcher Dr. Birgit Winther, an ear, nose and throat specialist who emigrated from Denmark to Virginia.

"Over the last 30 years, there has not been any money to do cold research," she said. "It's not an attractive area."

Unlike the flu virus, which is carried in the air and infects the lungs, the cold virus enters the body through the nose.

The cold virus lives on surfaces on public transportation, doctors' offices and playground equipment.

"Flu spreads by air – you inhale it," said Winther. "If someone with the cold virus sneezes in your face, you might get it, but the majority of transmissions seem to be indirect. You catch it on your fingertips and put it in your nose."

That's right. People infect themselves.

"Be aware of what you do with your fingertips," said Winther. "Use the back of your hands or knuckles."

So far, medications do little to cure the cold, because once the symptoms begin, it's too late.

One over-the-counter product that does work, Cold-FX, is produced in Canada and is unavailable in the United States, according to Ackerman. It's active ingredient is the widely used herb ginseng.

"There is some modest evidence that it helps protect and can actually shorten the cold," she said.

And chicken soup does offer relief, clearing out the sinuses with its steamy broth. Studies have also shown the amino acids break down mucus. And the soup, if it contains vegetables, also helps reduce inflammation.

Antibacterial Soaps Don't Work on Common Cold

Some other hard, cold facts that emerge from Ackerman's book:

Cold germs are viruses, not bacteria, so antibiotics and antibacterial soaps are useless.

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