Health Check: what is the common cold and how do we get it?

Health Check: what is the common cold and how do we get it?

'The “common cold” is common. Most of us will have at least one or two per year. Children get sick more often and very young children often get more than five colds per year.

Even though it’s so common there’s a lack of good research looking into this infection and ways to prevent and treat it.


It was, and is still thought by many, that exposure to cold temperatures, especially in winter caused the common cold. By itself this does not appear to be true. The common cold is caused by viruses. One needs to catch one of these viruses to get a cold – just exposure to low temperatures won’t do it.



We often believe most of us get these types of respiratory infections because we breathe in the viruses that cause them. The viruses are present in aerosols and droplets so when people cough and sneeze, we can inhale them. However what now looks more likely, is that most of us get these infections via our hands.

We often touch contaminated surfaces. Then we infect ourselves when our hands touch our mouth, nose and/or eyes. So it’s by our hands that we most often “catch” a cold. This is also why good hygiene, along with regular hand-washing with soap and water or with alcohol-based solutions not only decreases our chances of catching a cold but helps protect those around us as well.' (My emphasis)

Full article by Peter Collignon, Professor, infectious diseases and microbiology, Australian National University:

There are some good tips on what does and doesn't work to reduce cold symptom discomfort and interestingly, 'why it’s usually not possible for you, or a doctor, to tell whether you are suffering from a cold or flu.'


Photo: Sea spray from waves giving this headland a pounding. The cold and wet around the shortest day of the year here might make you cold, but won't give you a cold.

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10 Replies

  • Really interesting, Neil. When I was a child (many years ago) in primary school, we had that horrible shiny toilet paper with 'now wash your hands please' printed on it. Perhaps they should do something similar now, though with a better quality paper!

  • Or change those signs that say "Employees must wash their hands after using the restroom" to "Everyone should wash their hands after using the restroom, because not doing so is unsanitary, disgusting and gross."

  • It would help if washrooms had soap and water temperatures about tepid...

    the worst toiket paper I have come across was on British Rail in the 1960's... right up there with the front page of Pravda... at least it didn't make your bum go black from the printer's ink... a small consolation.

  • What would be even better was if you could get out of a washroom without having to touch the door handle!

  • Why is it that so many toilet doors open inwards..??

    Thus when you leave you have to pull on a wet germ infected door handle to just get out again..!!

    This really makes NO SENSE..

    Toilet room doors, like fire escape doors, should ALWAYS open outwards, so that we can nudge with our hip or bum or elbow to get out..


  • I try to seek out washrooms used for wheelchair access, they usually have automatic door openers... at hip height... 🤔

  • Ah, Dick, how would you get in? Still a dirty germy handle. You could be right though it's the lesser evil.


  • Dick,

    That is my horrer!

    I always take a couple of sheets of toilet tissue to open the Door with!


  • Ah yes I remember ' Bronco ' toilet paper intimately..

  • I use the paper towels that I dry my hands with to open the door to leave. Then look for a trash can outside. Also use my foot to open push open doors.

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