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Beat the sneeze
Reduce your odds of catching a cold
by 20 per cent
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By Diana Doyle-Zebrun
Mar/Apr 2019

There is no mistaking the early warning signs of the common cold.

The sore throat. The runny nose. The sneezing. And, of course, the general feeling of misery.

This is when you start to realize that you are "coming down with something." It's also about the time you start wondering what — if anything — you can do about it.

To help answer this and other questions, the team here at Health Links-Info Santé has pulled together the following Q&A.

How does one catch a cold?

There are more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold, with the rhinovirus being the most common. These viruses attach themselves to the lining of your nose or lungs, usually when you come into contact with one and touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Generally speaking, you can pick up a cold virus in one of three ways: through the air (when an infected person coughs or sneezes); by direct contact (when shaking hands with an infected person); or by touching a contaminated surface (viruses can live on surfaces like handrails or doorknobs for days).

How many colds does the average person get in one year?

The average adult can expect to get about two or three colds a year. Kids can get as many as 10 colds a year before they turn two years old. One reason colds are so common is that the body cannot build up immunity to all the viruses that cause colds.

Do antibiotics work against the common cold?

No. Antibiotics are helpful in combatting bacterial infections like whooping cough and strep throat. But the common cold is caused by a viral infection, which is impervious to antibiotics.

What about natural remedies, like garlic?

Although many people swear their cold was shortened by taking echinacea, garlic or some other herbal product, there is little scientific evidence to support this.

Photo of hands being washed

Is there anything you can take for a cold?

While there are no cures for the common cold, it is possible to treat the symptoms. Non-prescription medicines such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, throat lozenges and decongestants can help alleviate a runny nose or a headache. It is also a good idea to drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest. Taking a teaspoon of honey, or giving one to a child over the age of one, may help quiet a cough.

If you are taking prescription medicine, are pregnant or have heart disease, high blood pressure or kidney problems, check with your health-care provider to ensure it is safe to take cold medication. Some over-the-counter medications may negatively interact with commonly used prescription medications. In addition, some prescription medicine may include the same ingredients as your cold medication, providing you with a potential double dose.

It's also worth noting that Health Canada advises parents not to give over-the-counter cold remedies to children less than six years of age. In addition, parents should not use menthol rub on children because as well as being ineffective, it may cause poisoning or injury to the eyes.

Never give acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin) to anyone under 18 years of age because it can lead to brain and liver damage (Reye's syndrome).

When are people with colds most infectious?

Colds tend to last between seven and 10 days. People are most likely to spread the cold virus to others within the first two to four days of showing symptoms.

What can I do to avoid spreading the cold virus?

The obvious thing is to stay home during the first two to four days of your cold. If that isn't possible, try limiting your contact with other people, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing in public and wash your hands often.

How can I avoid catching a cold?

During the winter months, you are bound to come into contact with someone who has a cold, particularly at work, school or home. But you can reduce your odds of catching a cold by avoiding close contact with anyone showing signs of being infected and washing your hands often, particularly after being around someone with a cold. Indeed, some studies estimate that handwashing can reduce your chances of getting a cold by as much as 20 per cent. It's also helpful to maintain your health by eating well, staying active and getting plenty of rest.

Diana Doyle-Zebrun is clinical and quality initiatives co-ordinator at the Provincial Health Contact Centre at Misericordia Health Centre. If you have health questions, call Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257.