THEY STILL CAN’T CURE YOUR COLD
THE common cold has been afflicting humans and chimpanzees for at least twenty-four centuries, when Hippocrates used to advise his patients that rest in bed was the only treatment.
No record has been kept of the misery and expense colds have caused chimpanzees, but among people the toll is considerable. It has been estimated that in February, the peak month for colds, one person in every five in North America has a cold. Industry reckons its loss from absenteeism through colds is in the neighborhood of one and a half billion dollars and colds account for more than a quarter of the empty seats in school classrooms.
This past decade has seen some tremendous progress in the ever-busy field of commoncold research. Doctors have reached the point where they are almost sure that a virus causes colds. Now all that remains is a method of preventing colds or one of curing them. But the cold today is as incurable as it was in ancient Greece.
In fact it remains so mysterious that some of the world’s leading cold experts—working
with “human guinea-pigs” in a laboratory in Salisbury, England, and using live cold virus and the latest scientific methods—can cause volunteers to catch a cold only fifty percent of the time. In a world of miracle drugs and wonder cures the common cold is unscathed.
Since the average person gets about two colds a year (farmers and people in very low income brackets average more, the latter because of poor diet and inadequate housing) a recital of the symptoms will be familiar to all. The first is a sensation of burning and discomfort in the nose or throat, closely followed by a profusion of watery mucus in the nose. Next you have a dull headache and a feeling that your head is stuffed with mattress innards. If the infection spreads down into your bronchial tubes your voice becomes hoarse and you have a dry racking cough. With or without treatment the cold lasts five to seven days.
Though no one has died of a simple cold many people have succumbed to one of the many secondary infections to which a heavy cold makes
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They Still Can't Cure Your Cold
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the body susceptible. Middle-ear infections occur frequently, especially in children, and these may lead to mastoiditis which in turn can cause meningitis or a brain abscess. Doctors advise against blowing the nose too heartily during a cold because this sometimes jet-propels the infection into the ears or sinuses.
When the infection spreads downward pneumonia can follow. Pleurisy and activated tuberculosis are not uncommon results of a common cold. Influenza, which many people regard as “a bad cold,” is actually a separate infection altogether and one that shares the cold’s elusive qualities.
As Hippocrates prescribed, rest in bed is still the best treatment for colds. This isolates the patient from contact with other infections to which he is now susceptible because of his weakened state. Many doctors frown on the sweat-it-out practitioners, who fill themselves with hot grog and aspirin and pile on the blankets, because such treatment lowers the body’s resistance.
Other remedies, such as warm goose grease taken internally and externally, brown sugar and coal oil, onion diets and the wearing of a live caterpillar in a pouch strung round the neck are considered more favorably. They won’t cure the cold, but they’re harmless.
The common cold supports a onehundred - million - dollar cold “cure” industry every year and bears its share of a two-hundred-million-dollar vitamin industry, in spite of the earnest efforts of the medical profession to establish the self-mortifying truth that there-is as yet no proven cold cure or preventative. The progress of the doctors to this end is balked by the common cold’s most frustrating faculty: It can cure itself within twentyfour hours.
One out of every two colds contracted gives its victim a plugged nose or a sore throat and then disappears in a few hours. If the would-be cold sufferer takes no treatment for his symptoms he is likely to forget the entire affair, but if he rushes out and purchases one of the cold “cures” which clog the market he is forevermore convinced science has licked the cold hug. Cold sufferers like these cause the stunning statistics which amaze the public when a new “cure” is discovered. In many experiments now sugar pills are mixed with the cold treatment pill under study and researchers are chagrined to discover that the sugar pills are causing just as many cures as the remedy under trial.
The past few years have produced a fistful of so-called cold cures. In 1942
a doctor in California came up with a cure he had taken seven years to perfect: a derivative of the common
carrot. It was tried on a hundred and fifty cold sufferers and a hundred and nine recovered. In 1940 England was excited about a short-wave radio treatment which passed electricity through a patient’s head for ten minutes and cured seven hundred out of one thousand colds overnight. In 1943 an American came up with a solution of triethylene glycol vapor, similar to antifreeze, which he claimed would smother cold germs to death. These picturesque treatments failed to stick in the public fancy like cold vaccine shots, vitamin pills and antihistamines —all of which are unsupported by medical societies.
The vitamin pills, which were designed for people with inadequate diets, are most frequently taken by men and women who are a long way from any vitamin deficiency. The pills don’t harm them, naturally, but they give them no more protection from the common cold than is already theirs through adequate diet. If you’re low in vitamins, though, these pills will help you build up your resistance. Cold vaccines have been discarded by most doctors because it has been decided that many different types of virus cause colds. A vaccine which would protect against one type of virus would give no protection at all against its cousins, even if it could be introduced into the respiratory system—where the cold attacks—instead of into the blood stream which the wily cold virus ignores.
The runaway favorites in the cold cure field at the present time are the antihistamine agents, developed twenty years ago to help people who suffer from allergy complaints like hay fever. Only two years ago a digest magazine announced that antihistamines had licked the common cold at last and this much-quoted article was enough to get the bobsled moving.
The Canadian Medical Association, the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association still have to be shown that the antihistamines cure colds. “There is no convincing evidence to justify a claim that any of the ’antihistamine drugs is of value in preventing, aborting or curing the common cold,” the Council on pharmacy of the American Medical Association states. In spite of this, over - the - counter sales of antihista -mines hit an estimated seventy-two million dollars last year in the U. S.
The antihistamine controversy has been the hottest dispute in medical circles in a decade. The issue is still in doubt. Manufacturers of the drugs claim that a condition called allergic rhinitis is present in some or all colds. This allergy breeds histamine in the tissues of the nose and throat. Anti-
histamines combat it and thus relieve the running nose, flaming eyes and sneezing which are the symptoms of allergic rhinitis as well as of the cold. But the medical profession retorts that experiments have revealed no indication that the cold virus is in any way related to an allergy.
Some drug manufacturers claim further that if antihistamine is taken within twenty-four hours it may prevent a cold developing altogether. This theory supposes that the drug has a direct effect on the cold virus but most doctors doubt this and it is unsupported by medical evidence. On the other hand, the medical men haven’t proved that the common cold has not an allergic factor or that the antihistamines have no influence on the cold virus itself.
Actually, antihistamine manufacturers do not now claim that their product is a cold cure. Early ads hailed SENSATIONAL NEW DISCOVERY KILLS COLD IN HOURS! but this advertising is no longer permitted either in the U. S. or Canada. The Canadian Department of National Health and Welfare states flatly, “The drugs may relieve the side effects associated with the common cold but not cure the cold itself,” and therefore manufacturers are allowed only to advertise that their product will check, relieve or stop cold symptoms.
The medical societies point out that antihistamines may often appear to cure a cold because many colds only last twenty-four hours anyway. And then there’s the incalculable power of suggestion.
Doctors have recognized for centuries that an integral part of most cures is to convince the patient he is about to get better. For this reason people who have fastened their faith in curing colds on, say, corn flakes can sometimes cure themselves with corn flakes. One Toronto doctor advises his patients to come to him for a shot of penicillin whenever they feel a cold coming on, although he knows perfectly well that penicillin has no effect on the common cold. “It cures ’em,” he tells his startled associates. “They feel they can lick anything with that load of penicillin, so why not give it to them?”
In a Boston University experiment involving twelve hundred and fourteen students sugar pills turned out to be just as effective as antihistamine pills in “curing” colds. In a Bell Telephone Company experiment involving eight hundred and eighty-one of the company’s Montreal employees sugar pills “cured” a greater percentage than antihistamines.
Why is the common cold such a formidable problem? How is it that brilliant men who have beaten nearly all man’s infirmities can do nothing for their own colds except blow their noses? There are many reasons.
First, the cold is not much of a medical hazard. It’s a minor nuisance in an era still stymied by polio and cancer. Then too no laboratory animal —except the expensive and difficult chimpanzee—can catch a cold. Researchers have failed to reproduce the common cold in rabbits, mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, voles, cotton rats, grey squirrels, flying squirrels, hedgehogs, pigs, chickens, kittens, ferrets, baboons, green monkeys, capuchin monkeys, red patas monkeys or a sooty mangabey. Therefore there has been little or no study of the lesions caused by colds in the respiratory passages—a disease with no mortality provides researchers with no tissues to examine.
The record of failure with the common cold dates back centuries. In 1786 a treatise on the subject declared that
a cold came from going too thinly clad, exposing the body to cold air after having been heated by exercise, or causing the pores to open by drinking warm liquors. A lot of modems still hold to this theory.
Reluctant to give up the tenet that cold was a factor in catching colds, some doctors later decided that exposure lowered resistance to a person’s own throat bacteria, which had just been waiting for an opportunity *to flourish. At the turn of this century it was settled that throat bacteria were not a primary cause of colds: the
infection came from outside. Not until 1929 was it considered that colds are caused by a filter-passing virus, incredibly small. This has yet to be proved because the cold virus has never been cultured, but evidence is piling up which indicates the premise is correct.
What relationship a chilling has to colds remains a mystery. Almost everyone suffering a cold can trace its cause back to a specific instance of chilling or overtiring, but doctors are unable to establish a reason for the connection: During exhaustive tests
at the “cold laboratory” at Salisbury volunteers were given hot baths and then made to stand naked in a draughty room for a few hours and to wear cofd wet socks for a period after that. None of the volunteers who were thus chilled caught colds because of the chilling alone; other shivering heroes were also given a dose of live cold virus and only half of them caught colds.
Two types of cold virus have been identified: one incubates in one or two days and the other in three to nine days. There are probably other types, which is the reason why cold vaccines hold so little hope. In addition the cold virus, like the influenza virus, is so small that antibiotics like penicillin and aureomycin—which tear into most virus infections—have no effect oivit.
Children have twice as many colds as adults and have cold complications much more often—and doctors don’t know why. Women have more colds than men (industry figures its men employees will be away an average of one day a year with colds and its women three). No one can develop a permanent immunity to colds but it appears to be possible for a person to carry the infection without apparently suffering from a cold at all.
Some people are more susceptible to colds than others for no known reason and will get four or five colds a year, all of them real brutes. Sofnetimes such a sufferer will suddenly enter a period of fewer and milder colds and will attribute the delightful situation to a move to a warmer home, the adding of vitamin pills to the diet, fewer cigarettes, cold-vaccine shots, earlier bedtime or vegetarianism. They get no argument from doctors, who are as confused as anyone else.
Colds do tend to wear out and disappear, though, if the community is isolated from the outside world long enough. The classic example is the northern port of Spitzbergen in Norway, which is ice bound all winter. By midwinter the common cold has disappeared in the town and no amount of chilling or getting overtired can cause one to appear. With the arrival of the first boat in the spring heavy colds sweep the population, indicating that being isolated from cold germs greatly lowers resistance to them.
The work goes on in research laboratories, for, as the antihistamine flurry has shown, a life of luxury awaits the man who cures the common cold. When that day arrives proud medical students with new diplomas can stop flinching when a voice from the rear jeers: “If you’re so smart, how about curing my cold?” ^