cold virus


When A Nasty Cold Swept Harvard Medical School: Lessons To Be Learned

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Last August and September, a nasty cold swept through the Harvard Medical School campus.

As documented by J Bradley Segal in the Harvard Medical Student Review, a survey of 400 students at the med school and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine found that it hit roughly a quarter of first-year students and a third of second-year students.

Ugh. But surely a “teachable moment.” Segal explores what’s known about the common cold in his review and case study, titled “The Most Common Illness,” and analyzes which factors may have helped determine who fell victim to the virus and who did not:

…going to a bar or party with classmates in the last week and studying with classmates some or all of the time significantly increased the risk of contracting the illness. For both classes, living in the medical school dorm, spending more than 30 minutes a day in the medical education building, or regularly attending lecture did not significantly alter the risk of becoming ill.

Interesting. Reminds me of past findings in schoolchildren, that playdates can influence contagion. Bars and parties and study dates are the young-adult versions of viral playdates, it seems.

And as for prevention, it just can’t’ be repeated often enough: Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Segal writes:

Hand Washing — The Punch Line

What do we have to prevent the cold, then? The answer can be gleaned from a classic experiment in 1980 in which one group of random volunteers dipped their fingers in dilute iodine solution—it was known to have virucidal properties (Hendley et al., 1978)—and were compared to volunteers who dipped their hands into water that was died to look and smell like iodine (Gwaltney et al., 1980). Immediately after drying their hands, volunteers made hand contact with rhinovirus-positive donors who had just picked their noses (“The donors contaminated their hands with nasal secretions by finger-to-nose contact”), and 15 min later, volunteers touched their own eyes and noses. This was repeated for 3 days. None of the eight iodine-exposed volunteers became infected, while all seven controls became ill (p < 0.001). Unfortunately, routine iodine use is impractical given that many patients do like having iodine-stained hands. Continue reading

Daily Rounds: GOP Squeeze On Reform; Texas Bailing On Medicaid?; Boehner’s Tears; Beating Back Colds With Exercise; The Secret Cheese Peddlers

Health Care Law Is Top Target of House Republicans ( “Republican lawmakers said, for example, that they would propose limiting the money and personnel available to the Internal Revenue Service, so the agency could not aggressively enforce provisions that require people to obtain health insurance and employers to help pay for it. Under the law, individuals and employers who flout the requirements will face tax penalties. Moreover, Republican leaders said, they plan to use spending bills to block federal insurance regulations to which they object. And they will try to limit access to government-subsidized private health plans that include coverage of abortion — one of the most contentious issues in Congressional debate over the legislation.?

Lawmakers Discussing Dropping Health Care Program (The Texas Tribune) In Texas, “some Republican lawmakers — still reveling in Tuesday’s statewide election sweep — are proposing an unprecedented solution to the state’s estimated $25 billion budget shortfall: dropping out of the federal Medicaid program.”

Are the Crying Spells of John Boehner Signs of Depression? “Boehner has cried in public many other times, the recent election night being only the largest stage to date. The tears also flow at his annual golf tournament, or while watching a child pledge allegiance to the flag, listening to a Republican colleague speak about his Vietnam War experiences, the unveiling of a statue of Ronald Reagan, while accepting various awards, during a rendition of America the Beautiful… Could these tears be signs of major depression? Should melancholy be a disqualification for leadership?” (

Stepping Up Exercise Could Help Beat The Cold Virus : NPR “At the end of the three-month study, the researchers found that the more the participants exercised, the less they reported getting sick. Those who exercised five days a week for 20 minutes or more experienced about 40 percent fewer days of illness compared with those putting in less than one day a week of activity. "It takes getting out most days of the week to see an actual benefit," Nieman says. Another study conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle tracked what happens when older, sedentary women start walking five days a week, and it found similar benefits. “(

While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Sales of Cheese ( “Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese. Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.”