The common cold has the unique distinction of being one of the most elusive infectious diseases in the world, as well as one of the most widespread. Try to think of one other infectious disease that inspires such a high level of resignation. The common cold winds its way through schools and homes, cities and towns to make people absolutely miserable for a few days. Most people don’t give it a lot of thought; it just is. Adults typically have two to four colds a year, and we’ve come to grudgingly accept this as a part of life.
As for the public; their understanding is a unique mix of false assumptions and folklore. In 1984, the University of Wisconsin-Madison ran an experiment to investigate whether or not one of one of the most popular ways of catching a cold was true or not. In the test, 16 volunteers got willingly infected with the cold virus, and they then kissed 16 healthy test subjects for a minute. The result? Only one healthy person got sick.
The most common ways people believe to be a cure for the cold have turned out to be false. However, this has done little do discourage odd remedies. Then-president Calvin Coolidge sat it an airtight chamber. This chamber was then filled with a noxious, pungent gas for almost 60 minutes. His doctors swore breathing this concoction in deeply would banish his cold. Spoiler alert, it didn’t.
So-called “winter remedy” sales in the United Kingdom reach around £300 million each year, despite the fact that most over the counter products have little to no influence on your symptoms. Some do contain an analgesic called paracetamol, but the dosage is too low. Dosing yourself with vitamin C has little impact. Hot toddies, immune system “boosts,” and medicated tissues are highly ineffective. Antibiotics do absolutely nothing for the common cold. The only failsafe you have is to quarantine yourself away from humanity for the rest of your life.
Modern science changed the way we, as a society, practiced medicine in almost every different field, but it has yet to come up with a radically effective treatment for this infectious disease. The problem is that almost all colds feel the same. However, the only common feature they all have is that the viruses that cause them have adapted to be able to damage and enter your cells in your respiratory tract.
Otherwise, the viruses all have different organism categories, and every one has a different way of invading cells. This makes formulating a catch-all treatment almost impossible.
Today, scientists identified seven different virus families that are behind most colds, including adenovirus, coronavirus, influenza and parainfluenza virus, metapneumovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and rhinovirus. Each category has a host of subcategories called serotypes. There are around 200 of these. Rhinovirus is the smallest but most prevalent. It causes up to 3/4ths of all cold infections in adults. To put an end to the cold, we have to take on all of these different virus families at some point.
The first attempt to make a rhinovirus vaccine came from scientists in 1950. They used the method Louis Pasteur pioneered by introducing a microscopic amount of the rhinovirus to the host via injection. This exposure prompts your body’s immune system to recognize and fight off the virus to prevent a second infection. However, those people who got the vaccine got sick with the common cold just as easily as people who didn’t get it.
The next 10 years saw the techniques scientists used for isolating the cold virus get refined. This proved that there were different types of rhinoviruses, and scientists came to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible to make a vaccine for the rhinovirus the traditional way. Trying to produce dozens of vaccines for each strain of rhinovirus is impractical, and the final human trial happened in 1975.
The Expert Review of Vaccines put out an editorial in early 2016 that brought about the hope for a rhinovirus vaccine. These scientist’s motivation was the knowledge that because we now have vaccines against several dangerous viruses like cholera, influenza, measles, yellow fever, and polio, it was time to try diseases that people get sick with more often like the common cold.