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Common Cold May Offer Some Protection Against COVID-19

Immune response to rhinovirus hinders coronavirus replication in key respiratory cells, study finds

Woman with cold blowing her nose

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En español | Scientists studying viruses at the University of Glasgow have found that the common cold triggers an immune response that may provide some protection against COVID-19, but they aren't encouraging people to catch a cold just yet. More research is needed to understand the impact on disease transmission that occurs when the two viruses interact.

"We can then use this knowledge to our advantage, hopefully developing strategies and control measures for COVID-19 infections,” study coauthor Pablo Murcia, a professor of integrative virology at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, said in a statement. “In the meantime, vaccination is our best method of protection against COVID-19."

In a laboratory experiment, the researchers found that human respiratory cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 struggled to replicate that virus when the cells were exposed to human rhinovirus (HRV). In theory, the result would likely limit the ability of the coronavirus to infect a person.

"These findings have important implications, as they suggest that immune-mediated effects induced by mild, common cold virus infections, including HRV, might confer some level of protection against SARS-CoV-2, potentially attenuating the severity of COVID-19,” according to the study, published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

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In mathematical simulations, the researchers found that the interaction between the viruses is likely to have “a population-wide effect as an increasing prevalence of rhinovirus will reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases."

Peter Urban is a contributing writer and editor who focuses on health news. Urban spent two decades working as a correspondent in Washington, D.C., for daily newspapers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, California and Arkansas, including a stint as Washington bureau chief for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His freelance work has appeared in Scientific American, Bloomberg Government and