With measles, the matter is clear: we get it once in a lifetime, after that we are immune from it. But coughs and runny nose torment us again and again – with nice regularity at least once a year. Researchers estimate that people will experience around 200 to 300 colds in their lifetime. Why don’t we become immune to these pathogens? Why is our body’s defense system so helpless?
There are three reasons for this: First, there are many different cold pathogens . Second, the viruses are constantly mutating . And thirdly, many germs trick our immune system.
The immune system has to learn anew every time
Over 200 different types of viruses can cause coughs, runny nose and hoarseness . The culprits are built differently, but cause similar symptoms. As soon as our immune system has defended itself against one of the pathogens and fought it, the next one comes along: Because it is new to the immune system, it cannot act against it with proven means. Instead, it takes time for the body’s defenses to deal with the new intruder. Usually this is three to seven days.
Since there are so many different cold pathogens, the production of an all-round vaccine is difficult: it should be able to protect against all germs at once. In the case of the real flu, however, things are easier: new vaccines are developed against influenza every year . Because the number of flu pathogens rampant at the moment is manageable, between three and six per year.
Viruses like to dress in new clothes
Even if our immune system has already taken precautionary measures against a certain cold virus, this only protects us to a limited extent against further infection with the same pathogen. Because all viruses are changeable . They always change a little bit. A tiny mutation is enough to make the shell of a virus look a little different. Such a change of clothes leaves proven fighters of the immune system in vain. Because the body’s defense system identifies intruders based on their external shape. If the pathogen changes its appearance, the immune system cannot recognize any old acquaintances in it.
Not only cold viruses, but also flu germs are constantly changing. But their mutations are carefully monitored by virologists from the World Health Organization (WHO). Laboratories around the world are constantly analyzing what influenza germs currently look like. In this way, suitable vaccines can be produced every year.
Cold germs trick the body’s defenses
Cold viruses are tricksters. Rhinoviruses, for example, deliberately subvert the body’s defenses. They manipulate the phagocytes of the immune system on a molecular level. With many intermediate steps, this means that the body’s defenses cannot remember what the outer shell of the rhinoviruses looks like. The result: the next time we come into contact with the rhinitis, our immune system does not recognize the culprit as old acquaintances – because it is clueless, it cannot switch them off immediately. That is why we are always sick for several days.
Home remedies provide help against colds and coughs . If you have a bad stomach ache or have a fever, you should drink a lot – preferably hot tea. Warm wraps and inhalations have also proven their worth. The natural pharmacy also has a lot to offer. Medicines for fever are not always useful, but can help if the temperature rises above 39 degrees Celsius and the fever lasts for more than three days. You shouldn’t use nasal sprays for too long as the body gets used to them. A cold often brings with it an uncomfortable cough, against the expectorant and cough suppressant can be taken.