You can’t switch on the news right now without hearing the word ‘coronavirus’. But coronaviruses are actually nothing new and most people will be infected with one at some point in their life. But don’t worry, most coronaviruses cause only moderate symptoms. In fact, of the seven known coronaviruses that affect humans, four are endemic (found regularly) and rarely cause severe disease on their own. These four are called 229E, OC43, NL63, and HKU1. Coronaviruses 229E and OC43 usually result in the common cold most of us experience from time to time, particularly during the winter. However, there are also three known coronaviruses that cause more severe symptoms: SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and the one we are dealing with now, SARS-CoV-2. What SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus have in common is that they are more dangerous for people with underlying medical conditions. And while SARS and MERS have significantly higher case fatality rates than COVID-19, the latter is more infectious. Finally, it is worth noting that there have been no new SARS cases for over a decade. However, MERS remains a public health concern, with a handful of cases cropping up every year. Two of the biggest challenges with the current SARS-CoV-2 outbreak are that many people are asymptomatic and our lust for international travel and the ease with which we can do it have allowed the virus to spread rapidly around the globe. [Related reading: Why COVID-19 hits some people harder than others]
A small study in the UK has found an unlikely ally in a strain of the common cold virus in the fight against bladder cancer. For the study, the findings of which appear in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, 15 patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer were intravenously given coxsackievirus (CVA21) ahead of scheduled surgery to remove their tumours. Post-surgery, when tissue samples were examined, there were signs the virus had targeted and killed cancer cells in the bladder. Furthermore, after the cancer cells had been killed, the virus reproduced and targeted other cancer cells. All other healthy cells were left intact. “The virus gets inside cancer cells and kills them by triggering an immune protein - and that leads to signalling of other immune cells to come and join the party,” said study leader Prof Hardev Pandha, from the University of Surrey and Royal Surrey County Hospital. The researchers from the University of Sussex who carried out the study said their findings could “help revolutionise treatment” for bladder cancer and reduce the risk of it recurring. Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the UK and affects around 10,000 new people every year. At present, treatments are either invasive, or cause toxic side effects. Moreover, constant, costly monitoring is required to ensure the cancer has not returned. Bladder cancer costs the NHS more per patient than any other cancer because of its high rate of recurrence.
Nobody likes to see a baby with a cold. After all, runny noses and a cough are bad enough when you’re fully grown, let alone when you’re still just an infant. But new research suggests that babies who are born with lots of different bacteria in their noses are more likely to recover quicker from their first cold and could help bolster the way we deal with colds going forward. The findings of the research are interesting because the common cold is caused by a virus, yet it would appear that bacteria found in the respiratory tract do play a part when it comes to recovery. Indeed, the researchers from the University Children's Hospital of Basel found that babies who have lots of different bacteria living in their nose tend to recover more quickly from their first respiratory virus. Moreover, babies with fewer different types of bacteria take longer to recover. Prof Tobias Welte, President of the European Respiratory Society, said: “There is an association between respiratory symptoms in babies in the first year of life and the development of asthma by school age. “We do not yet fully understand this link but the bacteria living in the upper airways could play a role.” He also welcomed further research to help determine the relationship between bacteria, respiratory infections and long-term lung health.
Children are more prone to catching colds than adults. In fact, kids get around six to eight colds a year – that’s twice as many as adults. But what are the best remedies for youngsters with a common cold? Well, according to a review of over-the-counter treatments published in The BMJ, there’s little evidence that any of them work, and some, like decongestants, could actually do more harm than good. That’s because decongestants and combination drugs that contain decongestants can cause drowsiness, headaches, insomnia and upset stomach. Furthermore, if they are given to children under the age of 2, they can cause serious complications such as convulsions and rapid heart rate. In reality, there is no cure for the common cold. While it can cause irritating and uncomfortable symptoms, including a sore throat, cough, congestion, sneezing and a raised temperature, after a week or so, they usually go away on their own. So what’s the answer? Saline nasal washes, says Dr Rahul Chodhari, consultant paediatrician and spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. They can be applied several times a day, with zero side effects, and help to clear mucus from the nasal cavity, reducing congestion. Dr Chodhari advises that cough syrups are not recommended for children because they stop them coughing up mucus and getting rid of it. Also, because antibiotics only work to combat bacterial infections, they do nothing to relieve colds.
How often do you pack to go on holiday and include some prescribed medicines in your luggage? While it might not seem like a big deal, you could actually be breaking the law in the country you’re visiting and that’s why the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is advising British citizens to check the rules ahead of time. Even painkillers that are commonly prescribed in the UK are classed as “controlled drugs” in some countries, which means holidaymakers could unwittingly find themselves in hot water abroad. In Japan, for example, some common cold remedies are banned, while certain types of sleeping pills require a special licence in Singapore. The FCO warned that travellers could be slapped with a fine or even imprisoned if they break the rules. With nearly half of the UK population currently taking prescribed medication, millions of individuals could potentially fall foul of foreign laws. In China and Costa Rica, visitors are required to show an accompanying doctor’s letter with any medication they bring, while in Indonesia, codeine, sleeping pills and treatments for ADHD are illegal. The FCO recommends that travellers check destinations on its own website’s travel advice pages or the Department of Health’s TravelHealthPro website.
Have you ever turned to Dr Google when you’ve been feeling under the weather? If you have, you’re not alone. Nowadays, tons of people research symptoms they’re experiencing on the world’s largest search engine. But while many of these searches confirm that the searcher is suffering from a common cold, others can see a simple sore throat query spiral off into diagnosing all sorts of rare conditions. It’s a reality that makes Googling health conditions both convenient and potentially terrifying. As the year draws to a close, the team at Google Trends has released information on the most popular heath questions people in the UK asked the search engine in 2017. Topping the list is the rather generic “why do I feel sick?” search. That’s followed by “why am I always tired?” and “what is cancer?” Have you ever heard of lupus? It seems many people have and want to know more about it, as “what is lupus?” is fourth on the list. This could be because pop icon Selena Gomez was diagnosed with lupus in 2015 and underwent surgery for the condition over the summer. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes sufferers to feel fatigued, have swollen or painful joints, and skin irritation or rashes. Because lupus is an autoimmune disease it is not contagious. More information about lupus, including warning signs, can be found on the NHS website. The final question completing the top five is “what is sepsis?” Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that can be triggered by an infection and leads to the body attacking its own organs and tissues. Sepsis can be treated with antibiotics if it is caught early enough and hasn’t already damaged any vital organs. More information about sepsis, including warning signs, can be found on the NHS website.
With just a single drop of your blood, VirScan can identify every virus you’ve ever had in your life and it can do so for around just $25. The research, which was recently published in the journal Science, could be vital for the diagnosis and treatment of viruses going forward. Contagious viruses with few obvious symptoms, like Hepatitis C, could become a thing of the past. Stephen Elledge, the lead author of the study, said: “There are people walking around with chronic Hepatitis C infections that have no idea they have them. Now imagine if this was a routine test that was done every time you went to the doctor. With things like Hep C, the earlier you treat them, the better." Imagine being able to walk into your doctor’s surgery and have a quick test to discover what previous viruses you’ve had, instead of filling out one of those tedious and often long-winded forms. Plus, the test may even pick up some viruses that you didn’t know you’d had! Once your body has defeated a virus, some of the special white blood cells that were released by your immune system at the time are then kept for reference purposes. Your body uses them as a reminder and to keep you protected from that same virus in the future. The study itself involved 569 people from the United States, Thailand, Peru and South Africa. It found that on average the participants tested positive for 10 species of virus. The most common being the flu, the common cold and gastrointestinal viruses. Photo credit: L'Express