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The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system, which includes the nose, throat, sinuses, eustachian tubes, trachea, larynx, and bronchial tubes. Although more than 200 different viruses can cause a cold, 30–50% are caused by a group known as rhinoviruses. Almost all colds clear up in less than two weeks without complications.
Colds, sometimes called rhinovirus or coronavirus infections, are the most common illness to strike any part of the body. It is estimated that the average person has more than 50 colds during a lifetime. Anyone can get a cold, although preschool and grade school children catch them more frequently than adolescents and adults. Repeated exposure to viruses causing colds creates partial immunity.
Although most colds resolve on their own without complications, they are a leading cause of visits to the doctor and of time lost from work and school. Treating symptoms of the common cold has given rise to a multimillion dollar industry in over-the-counter medications, yet none of these medications are actually anti-viral to the rhinovirus.
Cold season in the United States begins in early autumn and extends through early spring. Although it is not true that getting wet or being in a draft causes a cold (a person has to come in contact with the virus to catch a cold), certain conditions may lead to increased susceptibility. These include:
Colds make the upper respiratory system less resistant to secondary bacterial infection. Secondary bacterial infection may lead to a number of other complications, including middle ear infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, sinus infection, or strep throat. People with chronic lung disease, asthma, diabetes, or a weakened immune system are more likely to develop these complications.
Author Info: Belinda Rowland, Teresa G. Odle, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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