Epidemiology and Infection

Research Article

Signs and symptoms in common colds

D. A. J. Tyrrella1*, S. Cohena2 and J. E. Schilarba2

a1 MRC Common Cold Unit, Harvard Hospital, Coombe Road, Sailsbury, Wilts, SP2 8BW, UK

a2 Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA


The patterns of disease caused by five common viruses which infect the respiratory tract are described. The viruses were strains of rhinovirus types 2, 9, and 14, a strain of coronavirus type 229E and of respiratory syncytial virus. Volunteers were given nasal drops containing a low infections dose of one of the viruses, quarantined from 2 days before to 5 days after inoculation, and examined daily by a clinician using a standard checklist of respiratory signs and symptoms. Only subjects who developed clinical illness accompanied by viral shedding and/or specific antibody production were analysed [n = 116]. The results confirm indication from earlier studies that the main difference between colds induced by different viruses is in duration of the incubation period. Patterens of symptom development were not substantially different with different viruses. Analyses of signs and symptoms in different categories, e.g. nasal symptoms v. coughing, justify treatment with different drugs either successively or simultaneously.

(Accepted February 08 1993)


* Current address and address for reprints: Public Health Laboratory Service, Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research, Porton Down, Sailsbury SP4 0JG, United Kingdom