And your throat feels like someone hit it with a blow torch.
But not to worry: It’s just a cold, right?
Not necessarily. The respiratory misery we call the “common cold” is caused by a bug called a rhinovirus. You’d think that the medicos who can immunize us from A (anthrax) to Z (zoster/shingles) could whip up something to eliminate this annoyance, but there are more than 100 rhinoviruses. Catch one and you’ll be immune to that but not the other 99+ out there just waiting to make you miserable, most frequently from September to March.
But it’s August. So what’ve you got? Maybe an uncommon cold.
Generally speaking, summer and winter colds may be caused by different viruses. “When you talk about summer colds, you’re probably talking about an enterovirus infection,” says Dr. Michael Pichichero, a pediatrician and infectious disease researcher at the Rochester General Hospital Research Institute in New York.
Like rhinoviruses, enteroviruses come by the dozen. The one responsible for your summer cold is Enterovirus D 68 (EV-D68), first identified in California in 1962. Small pockets of EV-D68 “colds” popped up here and there after about 1987, but the virus didn’t hit full speed until the summer and fall of 2014 when federal and state health agencies confirmed 1,395 cases in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
You can catch EV-D68 at any time, but it’s more likely to strike in warm weather from late summer to fall. The symptoms are generally the same, but people with EV-D68 tend to feel worse than those with rhinovirus. And they feel worse longer. Folk wisdom pegs the common cold at seven days if you treat it and a week if you don’t. Mari Peterson, Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine at Mt. Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine says it can take two weeks to shake off EV-D68; some of those who’ve had say it seems more like two weeks to forever.
The Best Protection is Prevention
Exercising to stay fit and fight it off is not the best idea. “Those who have been sedentary through the winter should gradually ease into physical activities because enterovirus is the only infection associated with strenuous exercise,” says Bruce Hirsch, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, New York. “We go outdoors and exercise vigorously, maybe when we’re not in great shape. That’s when these enteroviruses like to show up.”
Happily, about half the people with enterovirus infections don’t get sick at all. But the virus is likely to hit children harder than adults, says Michael Pichichero, a pediatrician and infectious disease researcher at the Rochester General Hospital Research Institute in New York. Why? Adults may have developed antibodies from earlier exposure.
But they can still get sick if they run into a new type of enterovirus. When that happens, there’s no specific remedy or treatment. As with the rhinovirus common cold, the best protection is prevention:
• Wash your hands before preparing or eating food or touching your eyes, nose and mouth, gateways for both rhino- and enteroviruses.
• No kissing, hugging or sharing food allowed with someone who’s sick.
• If someone in your home has fallen victim, you could try to disinfect things like door knobs that everyone touches. Will that work? Maybe.
• If it doesn’t and your symptoms are severe — continuing high fever, difficulty breathing — call your doctor or go to the emergency room.
And look on the bright side. You’ve had your summer cold. Now all you have to worry about is rhinovirus season which arrives this year with the Fall equinox at 3:50 a.m. on Monday, September 23.
Carol Ann Rinzler is the author of more than 25 books on health, including “Nutrition for Dummies” and the award-winning “Estrogen & Breast Cancer, a Warning to Women.”