Cold wave: Persistent cough is common

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Cold wave with a particularly large number and severe infections

Many Germans are currently suffering from a particularly persistent cold. Almost 300 viruses are possible triggers of typical symptoms such as fever, sore throat, runny nose, cough and hoarseness. The pathogens continuously adapt and change their shape, which can have the consequence that, in some years, a particularly large number of people get severe colds caused by new viruses.

According to experts such as Hans-Jörg Baumann, senior physician in the pneumology department at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), this year, a cold season with a particularly large number of severe cough diseases has been recorded against the news magazine "Stern". Numerous patients are currently suffering from a persistent cough that lasts for weeks, Baumann explained. Medicine is often quite helpless at this point and can only help to alleviate the symptoms, since efficient drugs against the viruses are not available. These are changing so quickly that the development of efficient medicines seems hopeless.

Up to eight weeks of cough Colds are "particularly common and severe this year," explained Hamburg-based general practitioner Stephan Hofmeister to the "Stern". At present, "Mondays around 40 patients with such colds" were visiting his practice - otherwise, there were "half as many," explained Hofmeister. The senior physician in the pneumology department at UKE, Hans-Jörg Baumann, confirmed this assessment and referred to the particularly long-lasting cough in numerous patients, which could "go up to eight weeks". A corresponding cold is by no means as threatening as the influenza (flu), which is also caused by viruses, but the persistent cough is particularly hard on many people this year.

Pathogens adapt continuously According to the experts, between 200 and 300 different viruses come into play as triggers of the common cold, but they are constantly changing and therefore represent a real challenge for the immune system. After all, once the body's defenses have adjusted to certain viruses, new pathogens have already arisen, where the immune system's adapted defense strategy does not work. "You don't become immune to a cold, even if you've suffered it once - unlike measles or chickenpox," explained Stephan Hofmeister. The newly created pathogens can sometimes spread particularly well in the human organism and cause more severe symptoms than is usually the case with colds.

Cold viruses extremely contagious this year Apparently some of the viruses currently in circulation can be assigned to this category. This is the only way to explain the particularly severe and protracted cough in many patients. "There must be something in the genome of these viruses that allows them to easily dock onto the mucous membranes of the respiratory system," speculates Stephan Hofmeister. In the opinion of the general practitioner, the pathogens are probably extremely contagious, since in some companies almost the entire workforce falls ill. As part of the so-called droplet infection, the viruses are passed on from person to person via aerosols (tiny droplets of secretions in the air) when coughing or sneezing and settle on objects such as doorknobs, keyboards and telephone receivers.

Different causes for the multitude of colds The cold viruses have apparently found a way to multiply particularly well when they come into contact with the mucous membranes this year, "because many people become seriously ill," explained Stephan Hofmeister. Although the immune system's defense reactions such as fever, sore throat, runny nose and hoarseness are part of the typical cold symptoms, the painful cough is currently particularly persistent in many patients and is therefore clearly out of the ordinary. The cold is often accompanied by headaches and body aches, as well as a feeling of exhaustion, the experts explained. General practitioner Stephan Hofmeister sees the explanation for the noticeably increased activity of the cold virus this year in the interaction of various factors. On the one hand, this could already be caused by "a small change in the virus", on the other hand, "also the long, dry cold" has a part, says Hofmeister. "There is no single reason for this, there will certainly be a lot here," explained the doctor. For example, the dry heating air also favors the spread of the cold viruses on the mucous membranes.

Cold wave no reason to panic Although this year significantly more people are suffering from a severe cold than usual, according to the experts, this has long been no reason to panic. "This is not about any super cold viruses. That is in the context of what occurs every year, ”emphasized Stephan Hofmeister and also the pulmonologist Hans-Jörg Baumann from UKE explained that these are“ normal fluctuations ”. According to the senior physician in the pneumology department at the UKE, "just like allergic problems can sometimes be more severe when more pollen is flying, a cold in a year can be more persistent if other strains of virus circulate."

Treatment of colds so far not possible Since drug treatment of the causes of colds has so far been ruled out, most doctors rely on measures to alleviate the symptoms. Adequate hydration, ideally with herbal tea (e.g. sage), plenty of rest and sleep, and a vitamin-rich diet are therefore recommended to all patients. Medications can also be used to alleviate the typical cold symptoms. Various home remedies such as hot lemon, hot milk with honey, nasal douches or inhaling with certain active ingredients also offer a way to combat the symptoms. Otherwise, only help patience, because "the cough will certainly go away," emphasized Stephan Hofmeister. However, if the cough persists for a very long time, it should be clarified whether there may not be another disease behind it, according to the doctor.

With strong cold waves fewer influenza diseases Hans-Jörg Baumann from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf explained that the patients should urgently take the time to recover. "Especially those who are at work often think that they have no time to be sick", which means that the cold is "spread at worst" and "develops pneumonia", says the pulmonologist. However, the experts also pointed to an advantage that the currently particularly severe wave of colds brings with it: The more frequent the colds, the less frequent the real influenza, explained Baumann and Hofmeister. So far, however, there is no scientific explanation for this phenomenon. (fp)

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Photo credit: Thomas Blenkers /

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