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Common cold around since ancient times

I know they're separate, but it's been frosty outside and it seems everyone's getting a cold right now, including me. For decades newspapers and magazines have told us that cold weather doesn't cause the common cold, but when did we actually believe that? 

— Mr. Sniffles, Medford

It's times like this we're grateful for email, Mr. Sniffles. Fix yourself a cup of hot tea or soup, and read on about the history of your ailment.

According to a 2013 article in the Smithsonian magazine, cold viruses have been found in all corners of the world. Cold-causing viruses are called "rhinoviruses," stemming from the Greek word for "nose." 

The viruses don't leave a footprint in fossils and they mutate too much for scientists to pinpoint their origins, but according to the book "Common Cold," edited by Ronald Eccles and Olaf Weber, sourced from Google Books, head colds have been around since the Stone Age.

A papyrus from 16th century B.C. shows the ancient Egyptians used chants such as, "Flow out, fetid nose. Flow out, thou breakest bones, destroyest the skull, and makest ill the seven holes of the head." In ancient China they used acupuncture and the burning of medicinal plants.

The first evidence of any sort of viral infection was in 1914, according to the book. Hygienist Walter Kruse was among the first to attempt experiments at Leipzig University in Germany prior to World War I.

Others worked to verify the claim through the 1920s and 1930s, but it was in 1946, at the close of World War II, with the American government's donation of the former Harvard Hospital in Salisbury/Wiltshire in the south of England, that the British government developed the Common Cold Research Unit.

The researchers there worked with volunteers who'd spend 10 days in isolation so researchers could determine the pathogen's effects. There were over 20,000 volunteers from 1946 until the center's closure in 1989.

To finally answer your query, Mr. Sniffles, it was only after 1956 for researchers at the CCRU were finally able to make their breakthrough and pinpoint the rhinovirus.

Cold weather does play a role. Our noses run when it's cold outside because of blood rushing to keep our sinuses warm. Also, as we turn on our heaters for warmth, the dry air reduces protective membranes.

—Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.