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boy with cold Boy with cold in a classroom. (Photo: JLP/Jose L. Pelaez/Corbis)

Cure for the Common Cold?

Scientists make progress toward stopping the sniffles

By Laura Leigh Davidson | February 23 , 2009

Most kids suffer from the common cold up to 10 times a year. Right now, there is no known cure for these bouts of sniffles, sneezes, and coughs.
 
But help could be on the way.

Scientists recently announced they have made some progress in finding a cure for the common cold.

The rhinovirus (rhino is Greek for "nose") causes more than 50 percent of most colds. A team of researchers from around the United States has decoded the 99 known strains, or types, of rhinovirus. In decoding the rhinovirus, scientists figured out how the cold-causer works and how it is made.

It turns out the virus that causes a simple cold is much more complicated than researchers once thought.

Scientists have determined that you can have two separate strains of the rhinovirus at the same time. According to a study released in the journal Science this month, those strains can work together. The viruses can swap their genetic material inside your body. And if that happens, a whole new strain of the cold gets created.

Structure of the human rhinovirus capsid
Structure of the human rhinovirus capsid is seen in this image released to Reuters on February 12, 2009. (Photo: J. Y. Sgro/UW-Madison/Reuters)

The rhinovirus's ability to mutate like that makes one person's cold different from another person's. Because no two colds are caused by exactly the same strain of the virus, it's very difficult to develop an effective vaccine to fight it.

But this new research does open the door for developing more effective ways to treat colds once a person has one.

"We may have to have four or five drugs, and you'd need a test at your doctor's office to know which drug will work," Dr. Stephen B. Liggett, an author of the rhinovirus study, told the Los Angeles Times.

Liggett also hopes that finding a way to combat rhinoviruses will help people who suffer from asthma. Common colds set off more than 50 percent of asthma attacks. So if colds can be cut short, then a major cause of asthma attacks is gone too.

"We are now quite certain . . . that a very effective treatment for the common cold is at hand," Liggett told the New York Times.

But don't put away the chicken soup just yet. There's still lots of testing and development to be done before any of these cold "cures" will be available to the public. Drug development and government approval can take many years.

So, for now, just keep washing your hands and get plenty of rest. Doctors say that's the best way to stay away from the sniffles.

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