The Common Cold

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Molecular surface of the capsid of human rhinovirus 16, one of the viruses which cause the common cold. Protein spikes are coloured grey for visual clarity. The resemblance to a football (soccer ball) is due to the fact that both posess icosahedral symmetry.

By No machine-readable author provided. Robin S assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0,

OpenStax Microbiology

The common cold is a generic term for a variety of mild viral infections of the nasal cavity. More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the common cold. The most common groups of cold viruses include rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, and adenoviruses. These infections are widely disseminated in the human population and are transmitted through direct contact and droplet transmission. Coughing and sneezing efficiently produce infectious aerosols, and rhinoviruses are known to persist on environmental surfaces for up to a week.

Viral contact with the nasal mucosa or eyes can lead to infection. Rhinoviruses tend to replicate best between 33 °C (91.4 °F) and 35 °C (95 °F), somewhat below normal body temperature (37 °C [98.6 °F]). As a consequence, they tend to infect the cooler tissues of the nasal cavities. Colds are marked by an irritation of the mucosa that leads to an inflammatory response. This produces common signs and symptoms such as nasal excess nasal secretions (runny nose), congestion, sore throat, coughing, and sneezing. The absence of high fever is typically used to differentiate common colds from other viral infections, like influenza. Some colds may progress to cause otitis media, pharyngitis, or laryngitis, and patients may also experience headaches and body aches. The disease, however, is self-limiting and typically resolves within 1–2 weeks.

There are no effective antiviral treatments for the common cold and antibacterial drugs should not be prescribed unless secondary bacterial infections have been established. Many of the viruses that cause colds are related, so immunity develops throughout life. Given the number of viruses that cause colds, however, individuals are never likely to develop immunity to all causes of the common cold.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: