populated cities of the modern world provide ideal breeding grounds
for common cold viruses, and few of us escape infection. Indeed,
most adults suffer 2 to 5 colds per year, and infants and
pre-school children have an average of 4 to 8. For most of us they
are rarely serious, but in babies and the elderly, they can lead to
potentially fatal chest infections.
Among the working population, there are
implications for the economy in days lost through illness.
The quest for a cure remains elusive - not
least because there are more than 200 different viruses which can
cause cold symptoms. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and
have no cellular structure. Indeed, they need to get inside cells,
such as those in the lining of the nose to replicate.
However, scientists are winning the Cold War
on a different front - by overcoming those familiar symptoms of a
blocked or runny nose, sneezing, headache, sore throat, coughing
Leading the battle are the scientists in the
Common Cold Research Centre, at Cardiff University, UK. Under the
leadership of Professor Ron Eccles, the centre is the only one of
its kind in the world dedicated to research into the symptomatic
relief of the common cold, influenza and hay fever.
But the Cold War can only be won with the
support of an army of volunteers - and that is one of the ways in
which the Centre benefits from being based in a major British
university. Young people are more prone to colds because their
immunity is still developing, and a student population of more than
16,000 and a further 3,500 staff provide the Centre with a ready
source of cold-sufferers to try out the various medications.
Hot drinks, soups and even a spicy curry can
sometimes alleviate the suffering associated with a cold - by
promoting airway secretions which can calm an inflamed throat.
But every year, more than 1,000 of members
of the University community visit the Centre with cold symptoms, to
take part in clinical trials. While they are waiting, they can
watch videos or play computer games, as scientists continue their
work to "zap" the symptoms of colds and 'flu for