Everyone has been to those lectures which seem to consist more of coughing than learning. The loud start of cold season during autumn is no surprise, but is there a way to know how severe a cold is going to be?
There are many old wives’ tales that claim a correlation between cold severity and common traits and activities. From wet hair to going outside without a coat, generations of children have been warned about their likelihood of getting sick. But have we been looking in the wrong places? Could it be tiny organisms in your nose that predict how severely the cold virus affects you?
A team of researchers representing UVA, DuPont Nutrition & Health and 4Pharma Ltd have found a correlation between the makeup of a person’s nasal bacteria and the symptoms and severity of their reaction to rhinovirus, the predominant cause of the common cold. Since a cold is a viral infection, the nasal bacteria do not cause the infection itself, but it may interact with the virus to cause the difference in symptoms and severity.
The team conducted a study to explore this link. By conducting nasal swabs, they found that there are six distinct groups, named for the dominant bacterial genera: Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium/Alloiococcus, Moraxella, Haemophilus, Pseudomonadaceae/Mixed, and Mixed. The correlation between belonging to a certain group and the severity of one’s cold was surprising.
“The first surprise was that you can kind of identify these different buckets that people kind of fit into, and then the fact that the buckets seem to have some impact on how you respond to the virus and how sick you get was also interesting,” said Ronald B. Turner, MD, via ScienceDaily. “There were effects on virus load and how much virus you shed in your nasal secretions. So the background microbiome, the background bacterial pattern in your nose, had influences on the way that you reacted to the virus and how sick you got.”
Another interesting result was that the cold virus had no effect on the makeup of bacteria in the participants’ noses. Researchers also tested if introducing probiotics, essentially good bacteria, would help with cold symptoms or alter nasal bacteria, and found there to be no effect, creating further mystery about the bacteria and viruses’ interactions.
If you suffer from extreme colds, don’t immediately blame your nasal bacteria. Unfortunately, the reason this correlation exists has not yet been discovered. Researchers are unsure if the nasal bacteria itself causes the differences in reactions or if there is an underlying cause for both the differences in nasal bacteria and cold reactions. Further research is needed to fully explore these findings and solve this mystery.
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