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Hearsay ... the electronic journal of the Bar Association of Queensland - Book Review: AH-CHOO! The Uncommon Life of the Common Cold

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Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland

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Book Review: AH-CHOO! The Uncommon Life of the Common Cold
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book_ah-choo.jpgAuthor: Jennifer Ackerman1

Publisher: Scribe Publications

Reviewed by Kateena O’Gorman


 This publication is an in-depth look at a malady so universal that its very name reflects its frequency (although it is often incorrectly referred to as “the flu”).  It explains what, exactly, a cold is, how it works, whether it’s possible to resist it and possible treatments.

In the USA, children suffer from as many as 12 colds per year while adults experience two to four (depending on whether they are exposed to children).  A cold virus takes hold in the average person as many as 200 times over a lifetime and, while a single cold is mostly a minor annoyance, it amounts to some five years of congestion, coughing, headache, sore throat - and roughly a full year in bed.  Further, one study has shown that people suffering cold symptoms sleep an average of 23 minutes less per night and have 36 minutes less consolidated sleep.  An illustration of the cost of the common cold is that, every year in America, it accounts for up to 100 million doctor visits, more than 1.5 million visits to the emergency room, hundreds of millions of absences from work, at a cost of some $60 billion.  Colds cause more illness in children than all other diseases combined and are responsible for up to half of school absences.  Further, colds aggravate other diseases and even lead to death.  

Consequently, the author argues, we should have a better understanding of the common cold.  Understandably, she asks why it is that we can vanquish viruses such as polio and yet there is no vaccine or antiviral drug for the common cold and that, while we have made great progress in understanding the common cold, we are as stymied as ever by how it can be cured.

The common cold is not as infectious as other diseases such as tuberculosis and flu.  It is caused by at least 200 different viruses.  After the body encounters a particular strain of virus and mounts an immune response, it produces antibodies to that virus, and these antibodies will disable that strain the next time the body is exposed to it.  However, this still leaves the body susceptible to the remaining circulating strains.  However, colds spread only grudgingly compared with diseases such as tuberculosis and flu.

The author tracks current research of the common cold and concludes that despite 70 years of research, the precise paths that cold viruses take to infect people remain controversial.  The author discusses methods that allegedly stave off or shorten the common cold and concludes that, by faith alone, one can truly stave off or shorten a cold.  The only certain ways to escape the cold virus altogether is to become a hermit and to stay away from children.  Otherwise, the best advice is to wash your hands, regularly, and not to touch your face.

The author also dispels many myths such as that susceptibility to colds reflects a weakened immune system.  The seeds or spread of the cold are the virus particles ensnared in the nasal secretions of an ill person.  When people have a cold, especially in the first three days of illness when they are most contagious, they shed millions of these particles.  For most viruses, the nose and eyes are the primary portals of entry.

Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about health and science for the past 20 years and some of her essays and articles have appeared in “The New York Times”, “National Geographic”, “More Health”, “Real Simple”, “Women’s Health” and other publications.  Her writings have also been collected in several anthologies, including “Best American Science Writing (2005)”.  

This publication is worth reading if only to learn some of the tips as to what to do and not to do if you wish to minimise your chances of catching a common cold and what to do to minimise the inconvenience of this malady.

 Footnote

  1. Ms Ackerman is also the author of Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream. Further details as to her writings appear later in the text of this review.




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