The cold facts

File this in the “news you’d hear if it weren’t for politics” file.

At a conference on infectious diseases today, University of Virginia researchers released a study of the common places where people pick up colds.

The researchers started with 30 adults with early symptoms of colds and retraced the things they touched in the previous 18 hours, using DNA tests to hunt for rhinovirus, which causes about half of all colds.

“We found that commonly touched areas like refrigerator doors and handles were positive about 40 percent of the time” for cold germs, said Dr. Birgit Winther, an ear, nose and throat specialist who helped conduct the study.

The culprits:

  • Salt and pepper shakers
  • Refrigerator door handles
  • Light switches
  • Remote controls
  • Telephones
  • Dishwasher handles

    The researchers also figured out that a person touching these items could catch the cold virus even if it had been 48 hours since the person transmitting the cold had touched them. This, apparently, is not true for the flu virus.

    Why can’t we cure the common cold? The Buffalo News has a sensational article analyzing that today. The short answer? There’s too many viruses. Another answer: Viruses are smarter than we are. For example, the reason a cold isn’t more severe than it is is because the virus needs you to walk around infecting other people

    • Jim!!!

      I try to correct myself when I start thinking something like “the virus needs”. Viruses have no needs or goals. It’s more accurate to think in terms like:

      – viruses that don’t kill people will spread more widely because the carriers remain mobile.

      – viruses that cause sneezing spread more easily because people live in close proximity.

      – viruses that survive on surfaces a long time spread more easily because people touch the same things.

      Cold viruses have evolved to have all of these advantages. A cold virus mutation that makes it more contagious is likely to help that virus survive, viruses without the mutation don’t survive. A virus mutation that caused our ears to wiggle, though funny, would not at an advantage to reproduce. Unless of course people had a natural fetish for wiggling ears…