The Cold War: Research on the Common Cold

January 22, 1988

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For decades, researchers have been looking for a cure for the common cold. Don't hold your breath.

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Mankind has had a cold almost forever—and has tried just about everything imaginable to get rid of the infernal nuisance. In the first century A.D., for instance, Pliny the Younger, the Roman author and administrator, advised “kissing the hairy muzzle of a mouse.” His prescription's therapeutic efficacy remains unproven, but, in that respect, his remedy is hardly unique. The effectiveness of vitamin C (as recommended by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling) or of chicken soup (as recommended by your mother) is likewise uncertain.

In search of relief. Americans in 1986 spent an estimated $1.8 billion on over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, including $800 million on cold medications, $408 million on cough syrups, $236 million on cough drops and lozenges, and $203 million on nasal decongestants. But as many a clinician has ruefully noted, the symptoms of a cold, if treated vigorously, will go away in seven days, whereas if left alone, they will disappear in a week.

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