It has often been said that man can put a space rocket on the moon but cannot cure the common cold. It appears that we may be closer to ridding the planet of this annoying scourge.

Although the common cold is not life-threatening, it certainly disrupts your life, makes you feel dreadful for a few days and also is an extremely common cause of workplace absence. The common cold is significantly contagious and typically causes a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose, moderate fevers and a few days of feeling unwell. 

Researchers from the Imperial College in London have discovered a key protein in normal body cells. This protein known as N-Methyl tryptamine (NMT) basically allows the cold virus to attach to a normal cell, replicate and spread throughout the body. The UK scientists have developed a drug that targets NMT, blocking the cold virus’s ability to cause infection. In further studies, the scientists are developing an inhaled form of the drug which will work rapidly and because of lack of significant systemic absorption, should have less side effects. 

The test drug was used on several strains of the common cold virus, otherwise known as rhinovirus and blocks the effects on human cells in the laboratory without appearing to cause any harm.

There are no current treatments for the common cold and there are a number of common misconceptions that need to be stressed at this time of year as we in Australia are entering into winter. Although you can develop cold symptoms at any time of the year, they are clearly much more common in the cold months thus the term, the common cold. 

  1. When a person says they have the flu, this is typically not the case and in fact they have the common cold. The flu actually refers to influenza which is a different type of virus that causes a much more severe, serious and prolonged infection
  2. The flu vaccine is specifically for influenza and does not prevent you developing the common cold
  3. You cannot develop influenza from the vaccine but you may have a flulike reaction (which is much milder than influenza itself) for a few days after the vaccination
  4. Antibiotics are completely unnecessary and actually harmful for people suffering the common cold or influenza. They are only useful if there is a proven bacterial infection following a throat swab or sputum culture.

Unfortunately, this potential cure for the common cold may not be available clinically for a few years to come, until it’s safety in actual humans (not cultured human cells in laboratory) has been proven.

In the meantime, there is a reasonable evidence base around the following treatments if you feel a cold starting to occur:

  1. A study from Finland using high dose vitamin C 6-8 grams daily for a few days has been shown to significantly reduce the severity and length of a cold
  2. High dose echinacea
  3. High dose garlic
  4. Zinc lozenges.

In my opinion and experience, one or a combination of all of the above are safe and should be used for a few days at the onset of symptoms, until relief. Regardless, the common cold is an imposition rather than a serious illness and it’s probably not that bad to challenge your immune system with minor viruses every now and then, purely to keep it on its toes.