The Common Cold
What is the common cold and how long does it last?
The common cold is a mild infection of the upper respiratory tract. The symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, coughing or sneezing, watery eyes and fever. This is usually after 3-4 days of feeling ill although some cold symptoms can last up to two weeks or more. It is not as serious as the fl u, which has similar symptoms. Colds are caused by a virus which invades the cells in the nose and replicates. The virus concentration is highest and most contagious two to three days before a person develops symptoms and two t o three days after. As a result, infected children and staff may have already spread the virus before they show signs of illness. So exclusion won’t necessarily stop the spread of colds.
How are colds spread?
Cold viruses are most contagious just before symptoms occur and for about the fi rst three days of the cold. There are over 100 cold viruses, so children can get one cold after another, sometimes for months. This is annoying and frustrating, but rarely abnormal. Children build up more resistance to each virus and will become sick with colds less frequently over time.
Everyone and no one is to blame for the transmission of these viruses. Twenty-fi ve percent of people with colds may have the virus in their nose and throat area without experiencing any symptoms of illness. Yet these people can give the virus to someone else who does get sick. Colds can be spread through discharges from the nose and throat, through coughing, sneezing, kissing on the mouth, sharing eating utensils, and touching contaminated objects as well. Doorknobs, money (bills and coins), keys and toothbrushes harbor cold viruses. The virus can live on a non-human surface for one to two hours. Animals and humans do not get each others’ cold viruses.
Colds and allergies
The irritations from allergies and colds can coexist in a person’s nose. If you think a child has allergies, you may want to suggest that parents discuss strategies with their health care provider to help control the symptoms.
Teething causes colds, fever and diarrhea. Newborns have temporary immunity from the cold viruses their mother has had. The antibodies are passed on to the fetus while in the womb. This immunity wears off between 4-6 months of age and the babies are then more susceptible to colds. This also happens to be the same age that babies begin teething, so frequently babies get their fi rst cold and begin teething around the same time. They can get a fever from the cold, congestion and discomfort from both the cold and teething, and diarrhea.
Being cold or chilled can contribute to catching a cold. Colds are caused by a virus, not by being cold. In fact, fresh air indoors and playing outdoors reduce the spread of cold viruses.
Feed a cold, starve a fever. This saying is untrue, but eating tasty food will not make a cold worse and may help the cold sufferer feel better.
Dairy products worsen colds. Not true. It’s OK to give milk unless there is a specific reason not to.
A child in care who gets a lot of colds has a weak immune system. This is a myth. In the fi rst two years of life children can have eight to 10 colds. If they are in group care and have school-age siblings this number might go even higher. Small children are just not good at the personal hygiene that helps prevent colds, such as proper handwashing.
Antibiotics are needed to treat a cold. Not true, since most colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria.
Reprinted with the permission of the California Childcare Health Program.
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