Cracking the Code of the Common Cold
For time out of mind, the common cold has enjoyed a renegade lifestyle. It attacks without warning, and can change its appearance with each new host. Up until recently, scientists and physicians had little understanding of how the cold virus did this. But now - with new insight into the cold virus genome - researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are one step closer to curing the common cold. The study's findings were published in the online issue of the journal Science. The official name for the common cold is human rhinovirus (HRV), and there are 99 known strains of it. While each of these strains leads to nasal infections, they can result in different symptoms for different people. Samples of the strains were collected over the course of 20 years by the American Type Culture Collection. The research team, headed by Dr. Stephen B. Ligget, director of the Cardiopulmonary Genomics Program at the University of Maryland, cracked and mapped the genetic codes of all 99 HRV strains. They then determined how the strains were related to one another, creating a sort of rhinovirus family tree. Researcher Ann Palmenberg of the University of Wisconsin-Madison said, "We know a lot about the common cold virus, but we didn't know how their genomes encoded all that information. Now we do, and all kinds of new things are falling out." All of this helps to better understand the complexity of the virus, and reinforces the fact that immunity to or cure for one strain does not protect against other strains. It is possible that there are hundreds of yet undiscovered strains, and it will undoubtedly take years before a true cure is developed. In the meantime, we're going to have to keep fighting HRV the old fashioned way: taking care of the immune system and eating chicken soup (which, by the way, really is good for a cold). Here are a few tips for keeping your immunity up, and warding off that nasty old HRV:
- Eat a well-rounded, nutritious diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, protein, and fiber.
- Wash you hands often, and be careful of your bodily contact with others - especially if they are sick.
- Drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated and keep your system clean.
- Try to exercise a little each day to stay fit and boost your immune system.
- Minimize your stress and get plenty of sleep - at least eight hours each night is recommended to keep you in your best health.
- Supplement your diet with vitamins and other dietary tools.
Take HRV seriously; it is actually a large problem. Americans spend an estimated $60 billion annually on the common cold, and miss more than a few days of work and school. The virus can be debilitating for small children and the elderly, and has even been suggested to encourage the development of asthma. It is the hope that the new genetic information will make it easier for scientists to pin point what each strain does, and where it is most vulnerable.