How the flu could stop you getting a cold this Christmas: Your body’s reaction to influenza can BLOCK the virus that causes the sniffles
- Experts found people infected with the flu may be protected against rhinovirus
- Researchers looked at 36,000 people with respiratory viruses over nine years
- Patients who had the flu were 70 per cent less likely to get a cold, data showed
- Experts believe the body’s response to flu can block infection by the cold virus
There is good news for those concerned a cold could ruin the festive season.
People are much less likely to end up sneezing and spluttering at this time of year, with scientists suspecting the flu season protects people against colds.
A study has shed light on the dramatic annual reduction in the number of common colds between October and May.
Scientists have found people infected with the flu, three-quarters of whom will not get ill, may be protected against rhinovirus, which is the most common cause of colds.
People are much less likely to end up sneezing and spluttering at this time of year, with scientists suspecting the flu season protects people against colds
Looking at 36,000 people with respiratory viruses over nine years, researchers found just eight per cent were infected with two viruses at the same time.
Patients who had the flu were 70 per cent less likely to get a cold, compared to those with other respiratory viruses, the figures suggest.
While it is vital for vulnerable people like children, over-65s and pregnant women to get vaccinated against the flu, to protect against dangerous complications, healthy adults have to take their chances.
However there may now be an upside, as experts believe the body’s response to flu in the respiratory tract can block infection by the cold virus.
Dr Sema Nickbakhsh, lead author of the study from the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research, said: ‘It is a striking result from our study that rhinovirus, which typically causes the common cold, declines in the winter as flu activity increases.
‘In the same way as lions and spotted hyenas compete for food resources in the Masai Mara, we believe respiratory viruses may be competing for resources in the respiratory tract.
‘Or it may be that the immune response to the flu then also fights off colds.’
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to study patients that had been tested for 11 respiratory virus at the same time over an extended period.
Involving patients living within the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board, it showed that individuals were less likely to get a cold if they had the flu.
If both viruses struggle to strike at the same time, this could explain why under-fives are more likely to get colds and older schoolchildren are the age group who suffer more often from flu.
Experts, who created computer models for 11 virus infections over nine years, found only influenza A, a strain which includes swine flu, and rhinovirus were rarely found together.
This could explain why colds went down during the UK swine flu outbreak of 2009.
The res believe that the flu may destroy cells in the respiratory tract, as well as the ‘doorway’ on the outside which lets other viruses in.
But a short-lived immune reaction elicited by the flu, where the body produces a chemical called interferon to fight it for the first few days, may also provide protection against colds.
Dr Pablo Murcia, senior author of the research from the University of Glasgow, said: ‘My team are now doing experiments to try and understand how respiratory viruses, including influenza and rhinovirus, interact.
‘If we understand how viruses interact and how certain viral infections may favour or inhibit each other, then maybe we can develop better ways to target viruses.’