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Health Information A Common Cold Q&A

Mix nearly 314 million people with more than 200 varieties of cold viruses, and what do you get? Approximately 62 million cases of the common cold annually in the United States, according to estimates from the National Institutes of Health. Discover Rush spoke with Kelly Stein, MD, an internist at Rush University Medical Center, to find out more about this all-too-frequent illness.

Which type of the cold virus is the most common?

Rhinovirus, a type of infectious agent that lives in the nose and throat, is the most prevalent. It accounts for nearly 100 of the 200 subtypes, as well as 30 to 50 percent of all colds.

Most of us have experienced a cold "going around," when co-workers, friends or family members are sick at the same time. What causes colds to go in cycles like this?

Cold viruses transmit readily from person to person. Let's say you have a cold and you touch your nose. The germs are then on your hands, and you can pass them to any person or surface you touch. You can also spread the germs around simply by sneezing. This "ease of passage" is why cold viruses can affect so many people at once. Plus, unlike a more serious virus, a cold may not make people terribly sick and, in turn, they are more likely to go out and infect others. The best way to prevent the spread of colds is thorough handwashing — whether you're the one sick or not — and covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough.

How long does a cold last, and at what point is a cold contagious?

Cold symptoms appear within 24 to 48 hours after you are infected, and the virus can hang on for five to 14 days. You may be infectious for seven to 14 days after a cold starts, but the peak time when you can infect others is day two or three.

Should I go to the doctor? When?

The normal range of symptoms includes a stuffy head, runny nose and cough. If you have symptoms that fall outside this range, you should contact your doctor right away. This could be a fever greater than 101 degrees that lasts more than a day or two, significant facial pain with nasal discharge and a fever, or serious head or body aches.

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Discover Rush Winter 2012
A Common Cold Q&A

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