Common Cold Caused By Multiple Viruses

A recent study investigating causes of the common cold affirms that most colds are caused by viruses, but only half are a result of infection with the rhinovirus, the virus most often implicated in colds. These findings support the recommendations that antibiotics, which do not work on viral infections, not be used to treat cold symptoms. The study appears in the February 1998 issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

Researchers from the National Public Health Institute of Finland report on a study of 200 cases of the common cold in university students over a one-year period. Student participants were asked to identify when they had a cold, based on a set of symptoms, and contact a study office, set up at the university, within two days of the appearance of the symptoms. The students were then tested to determine the cause of the symptoms.

In 138 of the 200 cases, the researchers were able to identify an infectious agent as the cause. Rhinovirus was found to be the cause of 105, or just over half the cases in the study. Other causes of cold symptoms included coronavirus, influenza A virus, and respiratory syncitial virus (RSV). All of these viruses are known to cause symptoms associated with colds. Nearly all the colds with a known cause were found to be caused by a viral infection. Only 7 patients were found to have bacterial infections, but six were also found to have a viral infection as well.

"These findings are consistent with our recommendations that antibiotics not be used to treat common cold symptoms" says Stuart Levy, president-elect of the American Society for Microbiology. "Almost all cases of the common cold are caused by viruses and antibiotics do not work on viral infections. The unnecessary and inappropriate use of antibiotics to treat cold symptoms is contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Despite this research and previous studies showing that antibiotics are of little use in treating the common

Contact: James Sliwa
American Society for Microbiology

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