Common Cold (Viral Upper Respiratory Infection)
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What is the common cold?
A common cold, or a viral upper respiratory infection, is an infection of the nose and throat. Many different viruses (germs) can cause a cold. While the common cold and influenza (flu) symptoms can seem very similar, the flu is usually more severe.
What are symptoms of the common cold?
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Slight fever (with some viruses)
- Red eyes
- Decreased appetite
After the virus enters the body, it may take about 12 hours to 14 days before you feel sick. This depends on the virus that you are infected with. Symptoms usually last between 2 to 7 days.
How does the common cold spread?
It is mostly spread from person to person by:
- touching your eyes, mouth, or nose with contaminated (unclean) hands; and
- breathing in contaminated air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
Children under 5 years of age are most at risk for the cold.
How is the common cold treated?
There is no cure for the common cold. People can generally fight off the infection naturally. Treatment may include supportive care for symptoms. Over-the-counter cough and cold medications should not be given for children younger than 6 years old. Check the labels to make sure the medication is appropriate for your child. Antibiotics (medications that fight bacteria) should not be given for viral infections.
Other ways to help care for your child include:
- Allowing your child to rest and making them feel comfortable in an adequately humid environment.
- Helping your child clear their nose. You can also put about 2 – 3 drops of saline (salt water) into each nostril to loosen the mucus and make clearing their nose easier.
- Ensuring your child gets plenty of fluids (e.g., water, diluted non-sweetened fruit juice, clear soups).
How is it prevented?
Follow these simple tips to avoid getting sick.
For more information contact the Health Unit or speak to your health care provider.
- Government of Canada – Concerns about children’s medication: Avoiding cough and cold medications: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-medical-devices/concerns-about-children-s-medication.html
- Government of Canada – Is it a cold or the flu
- SickKids – Colds (Viral Upper Respiratory infections): http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/En/HealthAZ/ConditionsandDiseases/InfectiousDiseases/Pages/colds-viral-upper-respiratory-infections.aspx
- American Academy of Paediatrics. Red book: 2012 report of the committee on infectious diseases. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Heymann, D.L. (2015). Control of communicable diseases manual, 20th edition. Washington, DC: APHA Press.
- Mizzi, T. (2013). Colds (Viral upper respiratory infections). Retrieved from http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/En/HealthAZ/ConditionsandDiseases/InfectiousDiseases/Pages/colds-viral-upper-respiratory-infections.aspx
- Government of Canada. (2016). Health Canada reminds parents not to give cough and cold medication to children under 6 years old. Retrieved from http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2016/57622a-eng.php