Return to School Brings Increase In Cold Viruses

By Mara McGinnis

Release Date: August 10, 1998 This content is archived.


With the return of children to the close confines of the classroom in the fall comes an increase in the incidence of upper-respiratory-tract infections (URIs) -- the common cold.

Timothy Murphy, M.D., says children experience two to three times the number of URIs -- 6-8 compared with 2-4 -- per year than the average adult.

And, notes Murphy, professor of medicine and microbiology and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, children who live in households with smokers experience more severe URIs.

• Realize that it is impossible to prevent all upper-respiratory-tract infections. In fact, he explains, it would not be a good thing to prevent them all. "The exposure to different viruses allows a child to develop an immune response which offers protection from infection by similar viruses in the future, " he says.

• Avoid the overuse of antibiotics, which have absolutely no effect on viral infections such as the common cold, according to Murphy. "Unfortunately, URIs are the most common reason for which antibiotics are prescribed and they unnecessarily create a number of problems, including the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

• Be aware that a "strep-throat" infection, which may be difficult to distinguish from an upper-respiratory-tract infection, does require antibiotic therapy. If a child has a high fever and a severe sore throat, he or she should be examined by a doctor.

• Cold viruses are transmitted by direct hand-to-hand contact from one person to another. Frequent hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue will help prevent the transmission of a cold virus.

• Murphy advises that children with chronic respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, receive an annual influenza ("flu") vaccination. Influenza, he explains, is a more severe infection than the common cold. The vaccine is approximately 70 percent effective.

• Do not believe the myth that if a child gets "chilled" in the cold weather, he or she will catch a cold. According to Murphy, studies show that people who are chilled are no more likely to catch a cold than those who are not chilled.

Reporters wishing to interview Murphy may reach him at 716-862-3303 or via e-mail at