Most adults go two to three rounds with a common cold every year.
An infection typically leads to a week or so of moderate, nose-dripping misery. But this year all that has changed.
If you battled a cold this spring or summer, you know exactly what I mean. The coronavirus has added a whole new wrinkle to this ordinary illness.
Having a common cold THIS year, ALSO means you’re in for a week of stress as you wonder if it’s JUST a cold you’re battling or the start of something worse.
If your cold is behind you, you likely thanked your lucky stars when your nose stopped running, and the coughs began to fade. But experts say you might be even luckier than you ever imagined.
That ordinary illness might have helped you avoid something FAR worse. And new research shows how it could still be giving you an advantage today.
Colds could teach T-cells about the virus
The common cold is a type of coronavirus. And while it’s not the same one that’s behind the COVID-19 infection, it turns out that it being a kissing cousin of THE NEW coronavirus could work out to our advantage.
A new study finds a recent battle with the common cold could potentially leave your immune system in a slightly better position to fight off COVID-19 if you’re exposed.
It all boils down to something called T-cell memory.
When something foreign like a virus invades your body, an alarm goes off. Your first responders, macrophages and other immune cells, go rushing to the scene to attack the invader.
If the first line of defense fails to fight off the bug with their brute force attacks, your body deploys its more skilled immune cell agents… your T-cells.
T-cells can retain a “memory” of the invaders they’ve fought in the past. And that special skill makes them far better at fighting off or resisting that illness if you’re ever exposed to it again.
And here’s where things get REALLY interesting. According to the new study, published in the journal Cell, up to half of folks who’ve never had the COVID-19 coronavirus infection still show a response to it in their T-cells anyway.
In other words, their specialized immune cells appear to have a “memory” of the novel new virus even though they’ve never encountered COVID-19 before.
The common cold may offer mild protection
Now you’re probably wondering about those asymptomatic cases we’ve all heard so much about. I was too. But it turns out the researchers didn’t stop there.
To be sure what they were seeing didn’t have anything to do with hidden cases of COVID-19, the team ran a second study. This time they used blood samples collected last year BEFORE the pandemic.
And sure enough, when they introduced the new coronavirus to the blood, it happened again. The T-cells responded to more than 100 of the peptides produced by the COVID-19 virus.
The researchers believe these are from exposure to the common cold. This, they say, allows T-cells to react to COVID-19 and are “directly or indirectly involved in protection from disease or infection.”
We still have a lot to learn about the new coronavirus, of course. But this means a recent battle with the common cold MAY help your body mount a little more of an effective defense against COVID-19.
That’s the good news. But now, for the bad. The researchers say this is nowhere enough to provide any degree of “herd immunity.” And if you’ve had a cold, you’re certainly not off the hook either.
You still need to be as careful as ever. Avoid crowds, limit your time outside of your home, and wear a mask when you have to go places. And don’t forget to be kind to your immune system by supporting it with good sleep and proper nutrition, including plenty of vitamins A, C, D, and fish oil.