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Not Becoming a Victim of Common Cold Viruses

by David Senesac
November 2012

Not only is it the holiday time of year but also the head cold and influenza virus time of the year. After kids went back to school and the weather of fall turned cooler, viral infections began slowly multiplying in children and spreading to their unlucky parents who spread colds to their workmates. Then as large numbers of people traveled in close quarters on airlines and public transportation to visit their friends and relatives during Thanksgiving and began mixing at shopping centers and malls for the holiday season, head colds spread at an ever increasing rate. Following the tail of common cold viruses, influenza too begins its annual rise in infections. First before I offer some special advice, a bit of known medical information:

Rhinovirus infections are the main source of what we call the Common Cold. The best non-technical summary of a rhinovirus infection I've ever come across is at this web link. And a more technical description at this web link.

From the above reference:

"Several studies demonstrate the incidence of the common cold to be highest in preschool and elementary school-aged children. An average of 3-8 colds per year is observed in this age group, with an even higher incidence in children who attend daycare and preschool. Because of the numerous viral agents involved and the many serotypes of several viruses (especially RV), younger children having new colds each month during the winter season is not unusual. Adults and adolescents typically have 2-4 colds per year...

The optimal temperature for RV replication is 33-35C. ( 91F > 95F degrees peaking at 92F) RV does not efficiently replicate at body temperature. This may explain why RV replicates well in the nasal passages and upper tracheobronchial tree but less well in the lower respiratory tract. The incubation period is approximately 2-3 days..."

The optimal temperature for RV replication is 33-35C. ( 91F > 95F"The cause of these symptoms is the immune response. Cells under attack by rhinoviruses release chemical signals called cytokines to attract immune cells and warn neighbouring cells that they are infected. These cytokines attract immune cells and stimulate a cytokine cascade, which further amplifies the immune response. More chemical messages are sent that result in the dilation of blood vessels in the area surrounding infection. They also increase blood vessel leakiness, glandular secretion, and stimulate nerve fibers. The end result is symptoms of the common cold: sore throat, runny nose, watering eyes, sneezing, coughing, congestion and headache."

I'm going to make my special input about preventing head colds that you won't find anywhere else nor will any doctors recommend doing such. And I'll start with a brief summary of my own lifestyle perspective. About 4 decades ago I read parts of a technical medical book about viruses that related how head cold viruses best reproduce at about 92F degrees per above snippets. And that gave me an idea that has kept me freer of head colds than any other persons I have got to know. As a child and adolescent, I had normal numbers of head colds as noted above. But after I began using the below methods, that changed dramatically. In the last three decades, I've averaged about one cold every three years and once every 5 years this last decade plus. Of course I also practice the usual habits of not putting my hands on my face after being in public places, avoiding people with head colds and flu coughing and sneezing, and consuming a normal amount of vitamin C regularly mainly via citrus fruits. I would emphasize the importance of washing one's hands after being in public areas touching foreign objects. And note virions can only live about three hours on such surfaces that eliminates the possibility of contagion from many objects. Significantly I never ever take any common cold medicines. However I do usually get an influenza shot in the fall. Thus without cold medicines I do suffer more during a cold than others, but those medicines have little to do with preventing colds but rather alleviating symptoms. Additionally for other medical issues during my adult life, I have rarely taken any medicines at all unless there is strong logic to do so. For instance in rare cases of a bad toothache, I have taken aspirin. And to give some sense of my general attitudes about medicines and drugs, from my early adult years I have neither smoked cigaretts, have rarely drank alcohol, and avoided any foods or drinks with MSG or caffeine.

My secret is that I make my throat and nasal passages too warm for rhinoviruses to take hold. Remember how the above reference states viruses multiply very poorly at normal body temperatures (98.6F average)? I thus cut colds off before they can get started by reducing their ability to reproduce. Once a cold has gotten a grip on me, I'm as much dead meat as the next person and a cold will run through its normal course. During late fall in public places, we are all often breathing in extremely tiny viruses floating about in the air. Likely thousands of them at times, as every milliliter of mucous from an infected person contains millions. However most do not succeed in infecting us. Some simply end up at places too deep and thus warm in our body to reproduce. Others don't reach parts of the nasal epithelium on cell walls the virions target. And others are gobbled up by our white blood cell defense system. In fact I suspect unless viruses can attain a critical concentration at a site they land at and are reproducing at, our white blood cells will remove them at a faster rate than they can multiply and thus eliminate them. Else with so many millions entering our bodies we would be certain to always come down with infections. That is what is occurring during the critical incubation period of 8 to 10 hours after which it may be perceptible. Being aware of that short incubation period is useful for knowing when one must be alert after public exposures. A tiny area of infection is building up and expanding until it becomes noticeable. That is where one can knock out a cold by allowing your white blood cells to envelop virions at a faster rate than they can reproduce. Add too much heat and virions can't reproduce fast enough.

So how do I keep my throat and sinus passages warm? Those passages are cool for two basic reasons. That is where cooler external ambient air enters, and second the action of moving air across moist tissues lining those passages evaporates liquid water to vapor and in doing so cools more. There is obviously a link between the cooler temperatures in late fall and winter and the reason that is the season for these infections. Summer air temperatures in most areas are simply too warm to spread the disease widely and it practically disappears. Not because some people in summer might manage to become sick but rather because without a critical density of human carriers it doesn't spread widely. Although the old wives tale of a draft causing colds has long been debunked, there is some validity that a cold draft at night makes catching a cold more likely if one already has rhinoviruses in one's upper respiratory tract. One strategy one might try is keeping the ambient room temperatures really warm, say at 85F degrees or more. The problem is, that makes one's whole body uncomfortable. Most of us are comfortable in the 68F to 75F degree range that our homes and work places tend to be controlled at. And those temperatures are low enough that with air moving in and out of our nasal passages, rhinoviruses seems to easily thrive.

I would bet that it is more likely tiny infection sites of rhinovirus colonies tend to attain critical masses during the night when we are sleeping. Well that is my own experience and those who I have talked to and that makes sense to me because night temperatures are generally coolest, our body metabolism slows cooling a bit, and there are long stable hours a virus might multiply without usual waking hour complications of activity like eating. And thus I put most of my own effort of prevention in at home during sleeping hours. During daytime hours I generally don't do anything special at work or at public places unless I suspect I might already be under attack. Then I might dress warmly with a coat that zips up to my neck. During all times of the year I never sleep with my neck exposed to the night air. Thus always lay warm clothing, blankets, etc over my neck. Or even better wear a neck warmer. You know, those hoop shaped often fleece clothing accessories that just fit over one's neck? Skiers and winter sports enthusiasts often wear neck warmers, wool neck scarves, or balaclavas. And stores selling such goods are of course a good source. In fact the second best thing to wear to bed if one has just been exposed during the day to a room of sneezing coughing co-workers is a snug expedition weight balaclava. A balaclava or a hooded sweatshirt can also be worn outdoors during winter in public.

Another thing one can do is knock out a cold that is just barely getting started? I do this a few times each winter season. It is possible to knock out a cold but only for a brief period right when it is first attacking and barely yet noticeable. The trouble is most people don't pay attention to such symptoms and by time they do when a virus is obviously noticeable, it has already nailed them. That is why it is called the incubation period as we are not supposed to be aware of it. But believe me you can at some point. If one is lucky enough that the early barely perceptible phase is while one is home at night, there is most hope. The thing to do is to not simply roll over and go back to sleep if one wakes up noticing maybe some slight nasal congestion. Yes get up right then and drink a few swallows of water or even better some orange juice to help clear any virons in one's throat. Then wrapping one's head with a down sleeping bag, comforter, or apparel is the trick. See image below. The great thing about a down sleeping bag or comforter versus other sleeping bag insulations is that it will immediately conform to the shape of one's head and body without any intervening air spaces. In that regard, it is best to not be wearing any other clothing between the nylon and one's head and throat. Thus the nylon garment covering will be right against skin without any space providing maximum retention of body heat. Best to zip up the sleeping bag then wrap it from the narrower closed foot end around the head then across the neck. Obviously may not be practical for those who move around during sleep. If a head cold is just starting, it will likely already have a critical mass somewhere in the nasal passages that begins to cause the body's own cell defense mechanisms to drip down mucous containing cytokines that in turn irritates any up to that point healthy nasal and throat epithelium it contacts and in turn allows the virus infection to expand. Often this phase can be noticed by a barely perceptible postnasal drip that has possibly made one sneeze.


The infamous postnasal dripping cytokines down the back of the throat is a way viruses can spread to the throat, make it sore, and quickly lead to an early cough. Once a cough occurs, the compression of coughing can push viruses into deeper recesses of the sinuses where they may cause a more serious longer lasting infection as well as provide its very effective aerosol mechanism for infecting other people. Usually I will notice the first subtle signs of one of these virus infection sites in the middle of the night. Instead of giving into sleeping non-action, I have a habit of immediately getting up and gargling to clear my throat of those body cytokines that are dripping down irritating epithelium cells the throat. If the virus succeeds in making a beachhead in a person's throat, the virus is probably unstopable. From a mechanical gravity perspective, postnasal drip depends on a person either being upright as when standing or sitting or if prone, laying on their back. Thus one can reduce it in two ways. One way is to lay on one's side, head on higher than normal pillow support, with one's head looking out to the side. Tilt one's face a bit lower than the back of the head so drip will not drain back down the throat. The second way when more serious though rather uncomfortable is to sleep laying face down with head and neck wrapped in a down sleeping bag. Uncomfortable but effective. Obviously in order to breathe one will need head support of two firm small pillows, one's at the forehead and the other at the chin with a significant open air space below one's face. At 2am I may readily feel initial signs of a head cold getting a hold on me and later after waking at 7am be amazed it is totally gone.

One thing definitely not to do is to put one's whole body fully inside a down sleeping bag. That is certain to make one's body so warm that one will tend to loosen areas about one's head making them less warm relatively as one normally does in a down bag while camping. Better to just snugly wrap one's head, throat, and upper chest in down while leaving the lower body covered with just a usual sheet and blanket. If one still becomes too warm, one might shed a blanket or leave one's feet, lower leg etc uncovered out in the air, so one can reach a comfortable balance.

What happens when a cold is just starting about daybreak and one needs to spend a full day at work? Dress warmly with a coat zipped up around one's neck maybe with an added turtle neck, stuff your pockets with Klenix tissues, and regularly slowly sip orange juice to clear any post nasal drip. Actually this scenario is usually the only way I come down with colds. Is all this possibly just something to do with my own special situation? No, I have a few real believers I have passed this on to over the years. Best of luck, stay head cold free, and please send me your own feedback.

David Senesac Photography