How long does it take to catch a cold?

I know, sounds like a silly question but I really don't know!

My son had a cold/viral urti/chest infection? 3 weeks ago he had amoxycillin and pred and increase in theo to get him through it. He has had quite good lung function now for the past week (80%). Right, his sister now has a cold which started 5 days ago and I've also had symptoms for the past 3 days. My question is - is this his cold that we have caught or a different one? My son is a gymnast and has the Under 12's British Champs on the 3rd November, if he catches this cold he will not be well enough to compete as it knocks his asthma so I am hoping we have caught his and not the other way around. He will be devastated if he is unable to compete and his coach who already has the hump about his asthma will probably disown him!!

1 Reply

  • Hi Koolkat,

    As you probably know, there are over 200 different viruses which cause colds; most of them have an incubation period of between one and six days. This means it's probably unlikely that you and your daughter caught the cold from your son - you would have got sick earlier. However, it may still be the same virus causing it, picked up from somewhere else - generally, each year, there are only a few cold viruses circulating in a community, with the exact type varying from year to year.

    If it is the same virus, your son should have some natural immunity, having already had it, and probably won't get it again. If it is a different virus, I'm afraid he will be at risk of catching it.

    There are some things you can do to minimise the risk of transmission to your son. The main mode of transmission is thought to be not by droplets aerosoled into the air by sneezing, as often thought, but by the virus particles being transferred from your hands (for example, after you've blown or scratched your nose) to objects around the house, and then transferred onto your son's hands. The virus can then infect him when he touches his face, nose or eyes. A lot of cold viruses can live outside the body for up to three hours or so, so things like doorknobs and banisters can be potential sources of infection.

    The easiest way of cutting down on this transmission is to make sure you wash your hands or use an alcohol gel immediately after you blow or touch your nose, and dispose of used tissues immediately. You could also use antiseptic wipes to wipe things around the house that are touched by all of you.

    Studies have shown that over the long term, these methods are not particularly effective at reducing transmission of colds within a family, probably because it is too time-consuming and awkward to have to do it properly long term. However, in the short term, in order to keep your son well for his competition, it might be worth a try.

    Some people feel that taking vitamin C, zinc and echinacea supplements may strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of getting colds. The evidence that this is effective is equivocal, and it may cause side effects. If you are going to supplement, please stick to the Recommended Dietary Allowance and consult your GP to check there are no interactions with prescription medication. In particular, echinacea may interact with steroids or immunosuppressants such as ciclosporin or methotrexate.

    Hope this helps; will be keeping my fingers crossed for you

    Em H

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