Wilderness Underfoot: So much trouble from a tiny life form

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11345931666795.jpg’, ”, ‘The rhinovirus (“nose virus") – This organism is only about 25 nanometers in diameter. About 80 million of them would fit on the period at the end of this sentence. ‘);

The common cold is caused by extremely infectious rhinoviruses

Like other viruses, the cold virus comes in many forms, each with its own special adaptation. Its assault on the human body is focused on the nose, which is the perfect virus reproduction factory. A cold virus can strike any time we come into contact with it, but it appears that we’re more susceptible when we’re fatigued, in poor physical condition, exposed to air pollution, or chilled.

The spread of the virus is through secretions from the nose (otherwise known as snot!). Sneezing and coughing can release the virus into the air, so it helps to keep your distance from anyone who is infected. But inhalation is not the primary way the virus is transmitted; your hands are usually the culprit. They come into contact with the virus, and then when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you’ve essentially infected yourself.

If you want to avoid the cold, the consensus of medical experts is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and refrain from touching your face. The virus survives about six hours outside the human body, and while it is alive, it can be picked up from surfaces such as handrails and doorknobs.

In our temperate climate, the cold season comes during winter when we spend more time cooped up indoors, in close proximity with other people, without fresh air. In milder regions, the cold season is during the rainy season.

Children pick up about three to eight colds per year. Adults get half as many, although those who care for children have slightly higher rates of infection. The cold is the most prevalent infectious disease. Its onset is usually about one to five days after you have been infected. Symptoms of the cold are centered in your head: sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, sinus irritation, teary eyes, a moderate headache, a scratchy throat and coughing. After a week, the worst symptoms should clear up, leaving perhaps a cough and some congestion for another week or so.

Flus are potentially more dangerous than colds because they can affect the entire body, causing fevers and chills, severe aches and pains, loss of energy, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea.

There is no cure for the common cold, and antibiotics have no effect on colds or flus (or viruses in general). Although antibiotics may be prescribed by doctors for secondary—bacterial—infections, many researchers are concerned that the overprescribing of antibiotics is creating “superbugs” that cannot be treated. Flu vaccines can help prevent certain strains of the flu.

From the Dec. 14-20, 2005, issue

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