What is the common cold?

What is the common cold?

The common cold, also known as an upper respiratory tract infection, is a virus that can affect the throat, nose, sinuses and airways. The common cold is caused by over 200 different viruses that can infect the upper respiratory system, although it is most frequently caused by rhinoviruses.1,2,3

What is the common cold?

How does the common cold spread?

Common colds are spread by coming into contact with the virus, which can happen through:

  • Direct contact with an infected person5
  • Inhaling the virus when coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person5
  • Contact with a surface that has been contaminated by an infected person, such as a doorknob, table or chair6

What are the symptoms of a cold?

With the symptoms of a cold lasting several days, and multiple symptoms experienced at a time, it can be very disruptive to family life. The symptoms of a common cold include:1,2,3

  • Sore throat
  • Malaise and mild fever
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Cough

How often do people get colds?

Adults experience roughly two to four colds each year, but this can be up to five to ten colds each year for children.1 The common cold is most frequently experienced in winter, followed by spring and autumn.4


1 Health Direct. Cold and flu statistics [accessed 23 August 2017] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/colds-and-flu-statistics

2 Simasek, M Blandino, D. “Treatment of the common cold.” American Family Physician 75, no. 4, (2007): 515-520.

3 Allan, G Arroll, B. “Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 183, no. 3 (2014): 190-199.

4 Australia Bureau of Statistics. National Health Survey: Asthma and Other Respiratory Conditions [accessed 23 August 2017] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/productsbytopic/D3FFEC910919F2B5CA2568A9001393B1?OpenDocument

5 Merck Manual (2018), Common Cold, http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/viral-infections/common-cold

6 NHS (2018) How long do bacteria and viruses live outside the body?, URL access:  http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/how-long-do-bacteria-and-viruses-live-outside-the-body.aspx




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