Uncommon Facts about the Common Cold

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Brushing up on cocktail party talk for the holiday season? Bet you don’t think that colds make great conversation—but they’re actually a lot more interesting than you might think. Here are five facts about colds that will surprise you and impress others (we swear!).

1. How’d it get the name “common cold?”

The name for the common cold began in the 1500s because the symptoms of this virus were so similar to what happened when people were out in cold weather for too long. Ever since then, there’s been a link in popular imagination to cold weather and cold viruses! But…

2. The jury’s still out on whether common colds are actually caused by… well… cold weather.

One thing is for sure—common colds are definitely seasonal, happening much more often in the winter and much less in tropical areas. But it’s not clear whether that’s because they thrive in cold weather, or if they’re just so contagious. Cold weather tends to stick people indoors for extended periods of time, putting them in much closer proximity to one another. Another theory is that viral transmission rates increase in dry weather because the viral droplets can stay in the air longer and spread much farther! But the next time someone tells you to bundle up, know that, as a method to stay healthy, you’re probably better off washing your hands and avoiding people with cold symptoms!

3. Ben Franklin’s Take on the Common Cold

Franklin was ahead of his time when it came to many things—bi-focals, weather, electricity—and the common cold was no exception! He was one of the first to realize that the virus was mostly transmitted person-to-person in his 1773 “Hints Concerning What is Called Catching Cold.” Franklin’s take on how to steer clear of the ever-pesky cold? Exercise, bathing, and moderation in food and drink consumption. As far as fail-safe cures, Franklin has yet to be proven right, but it seems to us like good advice generally! Just make sure you’re eating well and staying hydrated.

4. The Cure?

Perhaps the biggest push ever made to figure out the direct cause of the common cold—and defeat it—was made by a British doctor in 1946. Doctor David Tyrrell formed a “collection of huts” in Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK, recruiting volunteers to get infected with cold germs so that they could be studied. They required 30 volunteers for every two-week period, advertising in the local papers as a sort of “unusual holiday opportunity.” This unit lasted through 1989, when it was shut down after failing to find a cure (after all that time!). Of course, as we all know, Cold-EEZE has since been proven in two clinical studies to significantly reduce the severity and duration of the common cold.

5. The Cost

Not only is the common cold a pesky inconvenience, it also costs big-time. In the United States alone, conservative estimates place the number of doctor’s visits due to the common cold at between 75-100 million. Those visits alone cost $7.7 billion annually. But even costlier is the amount of work time lost. Parents miss approximately 126 million work days to stay home and care for their children in recovery; add that to the 150 million workdays that employees miss from work for being sick themselves, and the common cold costs the US economy $20 billion per year… yet another reason to wish that the Common Cold Unit had cracked the case!

Tell us, Cold-EEZE fans: which cold fact are you sure to break out? Ben Franklin’s involvement? The origin of the word? Or the cold huts that lasted in Britain for over fifty years?!