Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The fight against rhinovirus is real and continuing

Now that we no longer fear gastrointestinal viruses in our household (see all the previous posts about molybdenum), our current nemesis is the "winter cold," which is usually caused by a rhinovirus. There's no vaccine for rhinovirus, and very little appears to exist in the way of effective treatments; Science-Based Medicine says that only honey seems to help-- But honey and my current low-simple-sugars way of eating aren't exactly compatible, so I'm still digging.

One promising lead is the finding that warmer temperatures help the body fight off a rhinovirus infection.

The researchers from Yale infected airway cells with a rhinovirus in their lab, and kept some at a normal body temperature (98 degrees Fahrenheit) and others just below it (91.4 degrees). Whether it’s cold or hot, infected cells tend to make little interferons, Tech Times reported — but in the two temperature groups, the virus persisted. In fact, the cells in below-average temps replicated immediately, while the cells in the normal temps died off much quicker and were not able to replicate as quickly.
That’s not all. Researchers used mathematical modeling and genetic approaches to better understand the underlying ways in which a virus grows. The found that not only does the warm temperature kill the infection off faster, but it maximizes the effect of an enzyme, called RNAseL, in the double-stranded RNA. The enzyme is part of the interferon response, and eventually helps to eliminate it. Taken altogether, these findings show that even in the absence of interferons, warm temperatures have profound effects on the body’s antiviral response and the outcomes of the common cold, the researchers wrote.
This also builds upon prior research out of Yale that found cooler temperatures enabled infected airway cells to spread in mice, according to Tech Times. Researchers found that at “several degrees below the normal body temperature, interferons that fought viruses were less able to perform their job.” And in a separate mice study, they found that the rhinovirus spreads to airway cells more quickly in cooler temperatures. So it’s no wonder that peak cold and flu season tends to be in the winter, when temperatures can drop well below zero.

Could this help explain why so many people tout hot concoctions as home remedies for winter colds? The steaming hot liquid helps warm their noses and temporarily enables the virus-infected cells to die off more quickly? And why so many of the things they put in their hot concoctions are vasodilators or help enable vasodilation, such as chili peppers, lemon juice, ginger, alcohol (for some), and Vitamin C? I once was coming down with a cold around my birthday, and I wanted to celebrate with Thai food. At the restaurant, I ate much of a steaming tureen of tom ka gai (if you haven't had it before, I highly recommend it), and by the end of our leisurely meal, my cold was gone and didn't come back. I didn't know if it was the chicken, the ginger, the peppers, the lemongrass, or what, but maybe it was that the prolonged consumption of steaming, vasodilating substances enabled my virus-infected cells to die more quickly and replicate more slowly. (Whatever it was, it tasted wonderful.)

Besides lingering over a tureen of spicy soup, what other things can we do to help kill off a cold before it can make us miserable? Perhaps a special nose-warming device like a mini-hair dryer aimed into the nostrils would be a feasible intervention. (Someone beat me to that idea.) Or perhaps using flush-inducing niacin to warm up the facial tissues for a while would help. (Again, I've been beaten to the idea.) Also, when would one first start to use the heating/vasodilating intervention in order to maximize its effect? Right after the first sneeze occurs?

In the meantime, most of the family is "under the weather" because they came down with their colds days ago, and I didn't look all this stuff up until almost everyone was symptomatic. Only the kindergartner hasn't sneezed yet. (But I have a blow dryer handy for when she does. :) ) I did turn up the thermostat, and that seems to help their colds be less severe; I wish I didn't have to turn it down at night, but it's been very cold here and money is a consideration. I won't shrug off people's hot concoctions anymore now that there seems to be a plausible mechanism for their effectiveness at hastening the end of a rhinovirus infection.

[Update on 12/30/2017: The kindergartner sneezed within a day of this post. I quickly sat her in front of the computer with safety goggles over her eyes, instructions to hold her lips inside her mouth to keep them from chapping, and a blow dryer. She aimed the warm air up her nostrils on and off for around half an hour while watching comedy sketches, and that was the end of her possibly incipient rhinovirus cold. Not a sneeze, sniffle, or cough out of her since. An older child who had already been sick a few days let out a wet sneeze later, so she did the blow dryer treatment to herself, too. She also hasn't sneezed since, although she still had to deal with the accumulated mucus from the previous days. She insists the blow dryer treatment helped her, though. These are just anecdotes, I know, but it's nice not to have my children be sick. Next time a rhinovirus comes to call on our family, I'll use a blow dryer or a facial steamer at the first sneezes and report on whether the warm air in the nose seemed to help or was a waste of time.]

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