BBC Home > BBC News > Health

'I was given a cold to help others'

3 July 09 23:23 GMT

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Catherine Lewington is excited that she has her first cold of the year.

And unlike the many other common colds the 59-year-old has suffered, Catherine knows exactly what type she has - RV16.

Despite having the lung condition Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Catherine is feeling relatively well and being regularly monitored by clinicians.

Catherine, who was diagnosed with the disease late last year, was infected with C16 as part of a research project to test the effect of a cold on the lungs.

Understanding colds

Before taking part she underwent a barrage of tests, including a check of her lung function and to see whether she had already been exposed to the virus.

She will have more tests after the cold has run its course.

"This might sound quite weird, but it was quite exciting to know what type of cold it was," she said.

"I thought 'I know what this is' and to follow it through was quite enlightening."

Easing symptoms

Clinical research fellow in respiratory medicine Dr Joseph Footitt, at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, hopes that the research on people like Catherine will help them understand more about colds and how they are dangerous to people with COPD.

"In terms of a cure for COPD, that is many years away. But in terms of treatment we are looking at alleviating exacerbation (worsening)" he said.

"What we are interested in is what causes symptoms to get worse when people have a chronic lung condition like COPD and asthma. We are interested in the periods when they get many more symptoms.

"We know now that a lot of those episodes are caused by catching colds.

"Whereas people with no lung conditions would just catch a cold and get a runny nose, people who have problems with their lungs get increased symptoms more breathlessness, more coughs and so on.

"What we are interested in doing is more research on is why so that eventually we can improve treatment.

Dr Footitt said he aims to recruit 36 people - some with and some without COPD.

But he added: "The absolute priority is to make sure people are safe.

"We are not including people in the study with more severe COPD, just people who have more mild COPD - these are usually smokers."

Positive experience

Catherine said that her experiences of her first intentional cold had been fairly positive.

"I got the symptoms the first few days after using the nasal spray. I was not feeling too bright initially and I spent the weekend staying indoors and taking fluids.

"I did not take any medication though and there was a definite improvement the next day, although it had gone down onto my chest because of my weak lungs.

"This is the first cold I have been given and I can monitor to see what the effects are. It is quite exciting in a way, you can feel the symptoms coming through."

Catherine, from Hampshire, said she had been only too happy to help with the research.

"I have great admiration for the NHS and do feel it gets a bit of bad press and that we all take it for granted. If I can do a little bit to give back what the NHS has given me it might save someone's life.

"I am not a martyr, but when this programme was suggested I thought why not. OK, I was a little unwell, but it is all monitored and I was well looked after."

• Anyone wanting to take part in the study can email Dr Footitt on or call 07504527128

Related BBC sites