California scientists may have found a cure for the common cold

Here’s some good news as we head into cold and flu season: Scientists may have found the cure for the common cold.

“Our grandmas have always been asking us, ‘If you’re so smart, why haven’t you come up with a cure for the common cold?” one of the study’s co-authors, Jan Carette, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a statement.

No offense to Grandma, but there’s a reason finding a cure for the common cold, which affects millions of Americans each year, has been so elusive. There isn’t just one virus that’s behind the infection. Many different respiratory viruses can bring on the common cold, but most are caused by rhinovirus infections. There are approximately 160 known types of rhinovirus, which, as Stanford noted in a news release, explains why getting a cold doesn’t make you immune to picking up another one a month later.

What’s more, rhinoviruses are tricky: They’re prone to mutations, which make them more likely to be drug-resistant and help them “evade the immune surveillance brought about by previous exposure or a vaccine,” according to Stanford.

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Health officials recommend getting a yearly flu vaccine, and they urge everyone to protect themselves with one time-honored tactic: wash your hands, well and often. That may be the single best way to stop the disease in its tracks.

But in case you find yourself facing an encroaching onslaught of the illness though coworkers or school-age kids, This Old House has a few strategies to make life as hard as possible for the flu — or any germs, for that matter — to take root in your house.

The sink, the telephone, children’s toys, and doorknobs are popular landing sites for virus and bacteria. If someone is sick at home, disinfect daily, especially the remote control and the phone. Charles Gerba, microbiologist and author of The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu, says remote controls and countertops can be the germiest locale in the whole house. "What’s the first thing you do after you call in sick? Pick up the remote control," he says. "Sixty percent of them contain influenza virus in the home of a sick person."

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According to Gerba, the home office is another place to watch out for germs. "Desktops have 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat," he says. Gerba says to disinfect your desktop weekly, along with the rest of the house. This could reduce your exposure to colds and flu by as much as 50 percent.

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Your kitchen sponge should be replaced every couple of weeks. If that runs counter to your frugal ways, you can microwave it for one minute or run it in the dishwasher to eliminate germs.

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Beware of dust rags, dishrags, mops and other cleaning tools. Unless sanitized between uses, they only spread around the germs you are trying to kill. "It’s a free ride for the virus," says Gerba. Some of the cleanest houses he’s tested had the highest germ counts. And get this: a few untidy bachelor pads tested very low for germs, which he attributes to lazy housekeeping. "They don’t move anything around, everything is in the sink or the garbage."

But you don’t have to descend into bachelor habits to defeat contagion. Gerba advises heavy reliance on paper towels. If you don’t want to stockpile disposable towels, wash and dry cleaning tools at high temperatures so your house is clean and germ-free.

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The most benefit you can get from technology comes from air cleaners. Modern filters mostly catch larger particles such as bacteria, pollen, mold spores, but any virus traveling on a larger host can get caught by the filter. "It’s not a see all, fix all. It will reduce, but not eliminate exposure," says Burroughs.

There’s one caveat, though: The system must be working 24/7 to be effective. "It only works if the fan is blowing," says Burroughs. When properly used, a system like Honeywell’s Electronic Air cleaner captures 99 percent of the larger particles, and some of the smaller particles, too. And that’s one good way to keep the flu virus from spreading in your home.

More Ways to Flu-Proof Your Home

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However, researchers at Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco may have found a way to stop many of these viruses, including rhinoviruses, in their tracks. In the new study published in the journal Nature Microbiology, Carette and his fellow researchers found a certain protein that’s key to the viruses being able to replicate, which allows the cold to flourish. The researchers disabled this protein in human lung cells in culture, as well as in mice, and found that it stopped the viruses from replicating, preventing infection.

“We have identified a single human protein that helps the common cold virus to replicate and spread,” Carette tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Inactivating this protein could be a new strategy to prevent colds.”

He adds: “Most cases of the common cold are caused by rhinoviruses. There are more than 150 types of this virus. A typical vaccine like the influenza vaccine contains at most four types, so making it for all 150 strains would be extremely challenging. Our approach is different because we only have to target this one human protein that all of these different types depend on to make us sick.”

Carette notes that this study is just the beginning. “This is still experimental,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “and for it to have a therapeutic application in humans, it is important to develop a drug targeting this protein.”

While more research is needed, there are things you can do in the meantime to ward off colds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Wash your hands with soap and water often; don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; and avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.

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