A general term for over 200 different viruses, why is the common cold so ‘incurable’?
The common cold is a viral infection that attacks the upper respiratory tract, including the nasal cavity, the pharynx (back of the mouth) and the larynx (voice box). Every child can get up to 12 colds a year, and in adulthood we continue to get them on a regular basis. The symptoms of a cold are sneezing, a runny nose, sore throat and nasal congestion. Young children can also run a high temperature. In the first three days, the cold is highly contagious and is spread to anyone who inhales or touches anything contaminated by the virus. A cold lasts about a week, although a cough can persist for several days afterwards.
Rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, coxsackieviruses and adenoviruses are just some of the many different types of cold viruses. These viruses stick to the cells of the adenoids at the back of your throat. They quickly reproduce and rupture from the cells to spread to cells in the rest of the upper respiratory tract.
While we can treat the symptoms of a cold, we cannot find a single cure as there are so many types of virus and they mutate rapidly. Therefore, in the time it takes to develop a vaccine, it is no longer useful.
What is a virus?
Unlike bacteria, which have a cellular structure, viruses are much smaller and must replicate within other cells – for example, within the cells that line the inside of the nose.