Vitality

Could Body Heat Help Cure The Common Cold? Warmer Temps Kill Viral Infections Faster, Study Finds

Hot head and a cool nose? Yep, it’s probably a rhinovirus — or what most of us know and loathe as the common cold . A team from Yale University has some good news for cold sufferers: Warming yourself up when you’re feeling under the weather may actually help you get better faster.

Scientists figured out in the 1960s that rhinovirus can cause an acute upper respiratory infection once it replicates in the (literally) cool nasal cavity, since the airway cells line the respiratory tract. Once infected, the cells release protective proteins called interferons and eventually we start to feel better. But what would happen if infected cells were in warmer temperatures?

The researchers from Yale infected airway cells with a rhinovirus in their lab, and kept some at a normal body temperature (98 degrees Fahrenheit) and others just below it (91.4 degrees). Whether it’s cold or hot, infected cells tend to make little interferons, Tech Times reported — but in the two temperature groups, the virus persisted. In fact, the cells in below-average temps replicated immediately, while the cells in the normal temps died off much quicker and were not able to replicate as quickly.

That’s not all. Researchers used mathematical modeling and genetic approaches to better understand the underlying ways in which a virus grows. The found that not only does the warm temperature kill the infection off faster, but it maximizes the effect of an enzyme, called RNAseL, in the double-stranded RNA. The enzyme is part of the interferon response, and eventually helps to eliminate it. Taken altogether, these findings show that even in the absence of interferons, warm temperatures have profound effects on the body’s antiviral response and the outcomes of the common cold, the researchers wrote.

This also builds upon prior research out of Yale that found cooler temperatures enabled infected airway cells to spread in mice, according to Tech Times. Researchers found that at “several degrees below the normal body temperature, interferons that fought viruses were less able to perform their job.” And in a separate mice study, they found that the rhinovirus spreads to airway cells more quickly in cooler temperatures. So it’s no wonder that peak cold and flu season tends to be in the winter, when temperatures can drop well below zero.

That said, just because the snow has melted doesn’t mean people are safe from getting sick. It may be less likely, but it’s still possible to catch a case of sniffles when the sun is shining; behold “ the summer cold .”  The virus, though, says Dr. Michael Pichichero, a pediatrician and infectious disease researcher at the Rochester General Hospital Research Institute in New York, looks a little different.

“Generally speaking, summer and winter colds are caused by different viruses,” Pichichero told the National Institutes of Health. “When you talk about summer colds, you’re probably talking about a non-polio enterovirus infection.”

These enteroviruses are very common, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); they cause about 10 to 15 million infections, usually between June and October. And like its wintry counterpart, it can infect the tissues in your nose and throat, eyes, as well as your digestive system. Less common strains pose serious side effects, like conjunctivitis and hand, foot, and mouth disease. But for most people, the CDC said the non-polio enterovirus causes no more than a fever, runny nose, a cough, and body and muscle aches. Yes, even when it’s grossly humid outside.

All this to say the present study is an exciting one — researchers are basically on to a way that helps decrease the shelf life of a common cold. But they admit that they need to conduct more studies in order to understand these connections and mechanisms. However, as is, they believe their findings highlight the profound impact body temperature has on host cell biology and the human’s innate immune response, “but undoubtedly not limited to, the capacity to effectively fight infection by the common cold virus.”

In the meantime, the CDC recommends frequent hand washing to reduce the risk of getting a cold. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands as an additional precaution, the CDC said — and simply limit close contact with anyone you suspect is carrying a virus. This goes for both the rhinovirus and enterovirus.

Of course, if you’re already onto your second bag of cough drops, Healthline recommends using a humidifier to quickly reduce sinus pain and a stuffy nose. Breathing in the moist air can both soothe irritated tissue and swollen blood vessels in your nose, plus thin the mucus blocking your airways. You can achieve a similar effect by breathing in the steam of a very hot shower.

It’s important to note that while a doctor’s visit might be worth your while, antibiotics will not help you recover from a viral infection . The best remedy is still your mom’s sage advice: Get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Source: Iwasaki A, et al. Two Interferon-Independent Double-Stranded RNA-Induced Host Defense Strategies Suppress the Common Cold Virus At Warm Temperature. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2016.

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