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Monday, November 9, 1998 Published at 11:37 GMT


Common cold cure moves closer

Research at the Common Cold Centre

Scientists have cracked the structure of one of the viruses that causes the common cold.

Gail Foley on ten years of the Common Cold Centre
Experts at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff are also developing a home testing kit to distinguish between influenza and a heavy cold.

Now that the structure of the rhinovirus has been discovered, scientists are hopeful they will be able to develop a treatment to block its effect.

However, they warn that a total cure for the common cold could still be 10-20 years away despite millions of pounds being pumped into research.

[ image: Professor Ron Eccles with the rhinovirus]
Professor Ron Eccles with the rhinovirus
Common Cold Centre director Professor Ron Eccles said: "The problem is that we are not dealing with a single disease, but perhaps 5-6 groups of viruses.

"It is much more difficult problem than, for example, curing smallpox, a single stable virus where one could develop a vaccine to overcome the disease.

"Now that we have worked out the structure of the rhinovirus, it is possible to develop specific medications. However, these medications will only work against the rhinovirus, what about the other viruses?

"Part of a cure is coming, and it will be here in the next few years, but I still think for the next ten years we are going to have to live with the viruses.

"Hopefully by controlling symptoms we will be able to live in peace. If you can control the symptoms who cares whether they have got a cold or not."

200 viruses

More than 200 different viruses can cause common cold symptoms. The human body cannot build up resistance to the viruses, so they can cause illness again and again.

The viruses attach themselves to the cells lining the nose, causing minute areas of damage.

It is the body's own white blood cells that cause the symptoms of a cold. They are attracted to the nose when it is infected and release powerful natural disinfectant chemicals to kill the invading viruses.

On any day from September to March at least 50m people worldwide are suffering from cold symptoms. In a lifetime of 75 years we suffer from more than 200 bouts of common cold, each lasting 5-6 days.

Although the majority of cold sufferers can easily shake off their symptoms, approximately 4 million children world wide die of acute respiratory infections, mainly in the third world.

The Common Cold Centre was set up 1988 with finance from pharmaceutical industry.

Home spun remedies

[ image: Sneezing: a classic symptom]
Sneezing: a classic symptom
The centre has conducted research on most of the common cold medications that are now available from the pharmacy and supermarkets, and on many medicines that are still under development.

But despite the high tech research going on at the centre, Professor Eccles had some home spun tips for dealing with a cold. He recommended:

  • Hot drinks
  • Soup
  • Spicy food

All these can stimulate the production of secretions that can help to soothe and unblock the airways.

Professor Eccles said: "A lot of the old remedies you cannot throw out. They are still some of the best remedies."

The centre has also researched the impact of alcohol on nasal congestion; how the voice becomes deeper during a cold; how our personality influences the way we cough and why a cold causes only one side of the nose to become blocked.

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