The common cold costs Americans several billion dollars in sick leave, medicines, and doctor’s visits each year. But how much do we know about this viral pest? Learn everything you ever wanted to know about the common cold from author Jennifer Ackerman.
The Beehive: Hi, everyone. This is Alison, one of your producer, and today I’m talking with Jennifer Ackerman, the author of the new book A-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold. Thank you for talking to us today. I guess I first want to know what exactly is the common cold?
Jennifer Ackerman: A cold is a mild illness caused by a virus infection in the nose, and we all know the annoying symptoms. You know, the sneezing, runny nose, congestion. Colds usually last, you know, on average about a week, but they can last for much longer, up to two weeks. And I guess adults get an average of 2-3 colds a year, and children 6-10.
BH: Is it really possible to fight one?
JA: That’s a really good question, and the one very simple way of preventing the common cold is to wash your hands and avoid touching your face. The most common virus of the common cold is called the rhinovirus. And it likes to travel from nasal secretions of someone who has cold, onto the hands, from there to an object or another hand, and then that person who was infected with or contaminated with the virus touches either their nose or their eyes, and becomes infected themselves. So the way to prevent the cold is to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face. And this is actually harder than it sounds. We on average touch our face hundreds of times a day, so keeping our hands from our nose and eyes is not an easy thing. But it’s a great way to prevent a cold.
BH: I’m wondering what are strangest folk myths you’ve heard for curing the common cold?
JA: There are some very funny remedies. One of them is kissing the muzzle of a mouse. Another would be rolling up the peel of an orange and sticking it in your nostril. And one that was popular during colonial times was drinking alcohol until you saw two hats on your bed. The idea really was that by that point you were so drunk that you wouldn’t be able to really even feel the symptoms, so nobody really recommends that these days.
BH: And you’d basically just sleep it off anyways.
JA: That’s right.
BH: I have a horrible cold every year, and I have a red nose for the season, and my whole family calls me Rudolph. And I’m just wondering if there are any home remedies, like chicken soup or orange juice that I could do that will actually work.
JA: One of the best things you can do is get a product called bag balm, which is actually used for cow utters. But it’s very good for that raw feeling around the nose. You just rub a little bit on there, and it takes away the redness and all of the irritation. As far as the sore throat goes, gargling with salt water is a really effective way of easing sore throat. It reduces the swelling in the sore throat, which in the throat, which causes the pain; so salt-water gargle is a really great thing.
As far as chicken soup goes, I think it’s a great comfort food. I think it’s been a remedy for more than a thousand years. My grandmother always swore by chicken soup. And there is a little bit of evidence in the scientific record that suggests that there may be actually some medicinal value to chicken soup, though that hasn’t been proven yet in people. But it is good to have a hot broth, and it’s especially good if you get somebody to make it for you, and you can enjoy that TLC, that tender love and care that comes with having somebody make you a big pot of soup.
BH: I bet the TLC helps a lot to for helping you feel a little better.
JA: Absolutely. In fact, there are some studies to suggest that the empathy, the feeling that you have somebody particularly your doctor or your, you know, friend or roommate or somebody is actually empathizing with you, actually feeling sympathy for you and tending to you, that can actually cut down the duration of a cold by as much as a day.
BH: Are there any new things doctors and scientists have found out about the common cold?
JA: One of the reasons it’s so hard to create a vaccine to the cold virus, which has never been done so far, is because there are more than 200 different viruses that cause the cold, so they’re having a very difficult time finding a way to target all of those cold viruses with a single vaccine.
BH: Thank you to Jennifer Ackerman, author of A-Choo! for speaking with us today. And all of you listening can check out more information at thebeehive.org/holidays.