Most people know that the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent “seasonal flu” infection from various strains of the influenza virus. However, they may not realize that the flu shot has no effect on the over 200 different viral strains known to cause the so-called “common cold”. Vaccination against the common cold has proven difficult because there are so many viruses that cause the disease and because these viruses mutate so rapidly.
For decades researchers have been looking into ways to prevent the common cold.
This month, a published online article in the journal SLEEP concluded that not getting enough sleep is a significant factor in increasing susceptibility to the illness.
During a one week period, researchers from the University of California in San Francisco, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh assessed sleep duration and sleep continuity of 164 healthy men and women aged 18 to 55. Participants were then quarantined and administered nasal drops containing the rhinovirus, the strain associated with up to 80 percent of colds. The group was monitored over the next 5 days to see if they got sick. Those sleeping under 5 hours or even those sleeping between 5 to 6 hours were at a significantly greater risk for developing a cold compared to those sleeping over 7 hours.
What was especially interesting is that these findings were independent of other health practices. The researchers speculate that sleeps builds up the immune system.
The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. Symptoms generally begin about 16 hours of exposure with a feeling of being chilled, headache, fatigue, sneezing and sometimes a cough. These symptoms peak 2 to 4 days after the onset and can last up to 3 weeks.
The cold virus is typically transmitted via three routes: airborne droplets, direct contact with infected nasal secretions, or contaminated objects. That is why it is important to maintain good hygiene including washing hands, keeping hands away from nose and eyes when infected and keeping surfaces clean since common cold viruses can survive for prolonged periods in the environment (over 18 hours for rhinoviruses).
Bottom line: As we enter the 2015-2016 flu and cold season, get your flu shot and plenty of sleep.