- James Gallagher
- Health and Science Correspondent, BBC News
The virus that causes the common cold can effectively expel the virus that causes COVID-19 from cells in the body, UK researchers found.
Some viruses are known to compete to be the cause of an infection.
And according to scientists at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, it appears that the rhinovirus that causes the cold trumps the coronavirus.
The benefits may be short-lived, but they explain that the rhinovirus is so widespread, it could still help suppress the SARS-CoV-2.
Think of the cells in your nose, throat, and lungs as a row of houses.
Once a virus enters, you can keep the door open for other viruses to enter, or you can lock it and keep your new home to yourself.
In that sense, the influenza virus is one of the most selfish pathogens out there and almost always infects itself.
Others, such as adenoviruses, appear to be more apt to share a house.
There has been much speculation about how SARS-CoV-2 behaves in the mysterious world of “virus-virus interactions”.
The challenge for scientists is that after a year of social distancing has slowed the spread of all viruses and made their study very difficult.
The team from the Virus Research Center in Glasgow used a replica of the lining of our airways, made from the same type of cells, and infected it with SARS-CoV-2 and rhinovirus, which is one of the most widespread infections in people and a cause of the common cold.
When rhinovirus and SARS-CoV-2 were released at the same time, only rhinovirus was successful in infection.
The times the rhinovirus was released with a 24-hour lead, SARS-CoV-2 had no chance of winning the competition.
And even when SARS-CoV-2 was given a 24-hour lead, the rhinovirus beat it.
“SARS-CoV-2 never takes off, it is strongly inhibited by the rhinovirus,” explains Dr. Pablo Murcia to the BBC.
“This is absolutely exciting because if you have a high prevalence of rhinovirus, this could stop new S infectionsARS-CoV-2 “, Add.
Similar effects have been seen before. A large rhinovirus outbreak may have delayed the 2009 swine flu pandemic in parts of Europe.
Other experiments showed that rhinovirus triggers an immune response within cells infected, which blocks the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to make copies of itself.
When the scientists blocked the immune response, the levels of the covid-19 virus were the same as if there had been no rhinovirus.
However, the covid-19 virus may be able to re-infect once the cold has passed and the immune response has subsided.
Dr. Murcia points out that “vaccination, plus hygiene measures, plus interactions between viruses, could considerably reduce the incidence of SARS-CoV-2, but the maximum effect will come from vaccination“.
Professor Lawrence Young, from Warwick School of Medicine, England, indicates that human rhinoviruses, the most common cause of the common cold, are “highly transmissible.”
He adds that this study suggests that “this common infection could affect the burden of covid-19 and influence the spread of SARS-CoV-2, particularly during the fall and winter months, when seasonal colds are more frequent.”
I still know unknown how this will impact exactly in future winters.
The coronavirus is likely still present, and all other infections that have been suppressed during the pandemic could recover as immunity against them wanes.
Dr Susan Hopkins of the UK Public Health body has already warned of a “harsh winter” as a result.
“We could see a sudden increase in flu, other respiratory viruses and other respiratory pathogens,” he said.
The research results were published in the specialized journal Journal of Infectious Diseases.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.