- You likely won’t have both a cold and the flu at the same time, according to a new study that found strong evidence that the viruses that cause the illnesses interfere with each other.
- That interaction could mean that having the flu prevents or delays the onset of a cold, and vice versa.
- The research could open the door to potential new vaccines or treatments that mimic the way one virus wards off the other.
- Experts say the best prevention against influenza this season is to get a flu shot.
You can be hung over from the holiday party and also have a cold.
You can be jet-lagged from flying home and also come down with the flu, or influenza.
But you likely won’t have both a cold and the flu at the same time.
That’s the finding from a new study that examined thousands of records of illnesses.
Its conclusion was that there is strong evidence the viruses that cause colds and influenza interact — and interfere with each other — in the human body.
That interaction could mean that having the flu prevents or delays the onset of a cold, and vice versa.
However, researchers say further research is needed to nail down how this interaction may occur and what it means.
If that interaction can be understood better, it could open the door to potential new vaccines or treatments that, say, mimic the way a cold virus wards off the flu.
The study from researchers at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom notes there have been numerous clues that viruses like those that cause the flu and common cold interact.
This includes the fact that the flu and cold tend to peak at different times of the year.
To see if there was statistical evidence of this interaction, researchers looked at 9 years of data, covering 44,230 cases of a respiratory illness in which each person was tested for 11 virus groups.
The researchers concluded that the viruses likely interact in a way that makes it unlikely someone would show symptoms of more than one infection at once.
“This is a very interesting study,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of Stanford University’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in California, told Healthline.
“What’s really interesting is the opportunity to understand how organisms work together or collaborate, if you will.”
Maldonado said how these viruses work together or interfere with each other is still unknown, although it’s been suggested that being affected by one type of virus may help create immunity against others.
“It’s too early to say that they’re suppressing one another or how that’s happening, but this gives us opportunities to study that further,” she said.
But it could turn out that having the flu creates an immune response that reacts to a virus such as rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, and delays or prevents the virus from causing symptoms. Or vice versa.
If so, and if we could understand how and why that works, we then could try to develop vaccines that target that immune response and “amplify” it to further delay viral infections or prevent them altogether, Maldonado said.
For now, the best way to avoid the flu this winter isn’t to get a different viral infection.
It’s getting the flu shot.
This year’s flu outbreak was expected to peak in the United States in late December. From October 1 through mid-December of this year, as many as 5.3 million people in the country had already come down with the flu. The illness had killed as many as 4,500 people, according to the
A lot of those with the flu may think they simply have a cold since the symptoms can be similar.
But unlike a cold, the flu is far more likely to lead to serious complications. A healthcare provider can tell you whether it’s a cold or the flu.
“Having a cold is completely different from having influenza. Flu can kill you,” Maldonado said.