When temperatures dip, most people spend more time indoors?where they may have prolonged contact with others who may be sick. You catch a cold by hand-to-hand contact with someone who has already has one, or by using shared objects such as doorknobs, computer keyboards or telephones. Once you touch your mouth, nose or eyes after such exposure, you’ve got it too. But chicken soup?and other liquids?CAN help. But why do our bodies react to some viruses in such a self-destructive way?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have solved part of the mystery of why the misery of the common cold lasts only so long. The sniffles, congestion and fevers are a side effect of our immune system?s campaign against invading viruses. When people are infected with a cold virus, the virus enters cells and hijacks its works so that the cells become viral factories. The immune system’s white blood cells go after these infected cells not only by fielding chemicals that kill them directly, but also by turning on genes that help out.

The key to this rests with Carabin, a newly discovered protein made by the specialized white blood cells that march in when a virus attacks. It may seem like our bodies are overreacting, but researcher Jun O. Liu says that Carabin actually “acts like an internal brake to dial down the speed and intensity of an immune response so that it doesn’t go too fast or too far, or careen out of control and attack healthy cells?It’s like having a built-in timer to keep the immune system in check.”

While our body is busy fighting a war against an invading cold virus, what can we do? Drinking plenty of liquids, such as water, juice, clear broth or chicken soup helps loosen mucus that can cause congestion and helps prevent dehydration. Warm liquids can help ease a sore throat. Often used to treat allergies, antihistamines aren’t the best for colds because they dry up nasal membranes and slow the mucus flow that helps rid your nasal passages of germs. Nonprescription cough medications are considered safe, but many doctors say they don’t help much. It may be hard to believe, but it’s true: the best way to avoid getting a cold in the first place is to wash your hands.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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