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The common cold vs. COVID-19: Why the rhinovirus could help suppress the coronavirus

common cold vs. covid
Photo via profernity/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Would you rather get infected with COVID-19 or the common cold? Most people would pick the common cold, as it is far less lethal than COVID-19, which has far more potentially long-term side effects. And according to new research, the common cold might actually offer you short-term protection from COVID-19, because in a battle of the common cold vs. COVID, the common cold usually wins. 

University of Glasgow scientists told the BBC that people infected by the rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, could be immune from getting COVID-19 as long as they have a cold. 

The scientists explained that some viruses do not like to share cells with other viruses. The rhinovirus, especially, prefers to infect alone. 

To see how the two viruses compared, how the common cold vs. COVID would play out, the scientists infected a human replica with both the SARS-COV-2 and the rhinovirus. They found that when the two viruses were released simultaneously, or if the rhinovirus had a headstart, only the rhinovirus was successful. Even when SARS-COV-2 was released first, the rhinovirus still won. 

“Sars-CoV-2 never takes off, it is heavily inhibited by rhinovirus,” Dr. Pablo Murcia told the BBC. “This is absolutely exciting because if you have a high prevalence of rhinovirus, it could stop new Sars-CoV-2 infections.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, springtime is one of the most popular times for the rhinovirus to spread. That has the scientists hopeful that it could help curb the spread of COVID-19 worldwide. 

However, the rhinovirus only offers temporary protection—so don’t think of it as effective as other safety measures, such as practicing good hygiene, wearing a mask, and getting vaccinated. 

“Vaccination, plus hygiene measures, plus the interactions between viruses could lower the incidence of Sars-CoV-2 heavily, but the maximum effect will come from vaccination,” Murcia said. 

This is not the first time the rhinovirus may have protected a community from another viral disease. Experts believe that “intense circulation” of the rhinovirus slowed down the H1N1 pandemic in France in 2009.  

Sources: MayoClinic, BBC, CMI


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