TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter – January 2004

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A Cure for the Common Cold?Interferon Cell
Finally, it's here and it works. Too bad you can't get any. Believe it or not, we may be on the verge of winning the first public health battle of the 21st Century with a "cocktail" of drugs that'll beat back the common headcold. Unfortunately, the cure may be just beyond our reach... for now.

Colds are caused by more than 100 different kinds of viruses; all capable of causing the misery you know: runny nose, sore throat, sneezing & coughing, body aches… yet different enough so that a "universal" vaccine may never be developed. So what is this magic cure I'm talking about? It's not an antibiotic, that's for sure. Antibiotics are great for fighting bacterial infections but don't work a darn on viruses, so stop bugging your doctor for them every time you get sick. You may think they're helping – but please know that the placebo effect is very strong in colds. If you think the antibiotic's helping you get better, that alone may boost your immune system enough to help minimize the cold. Sorry if I just ruined it for you – but over prescription of antibiotics is creating a national health crisis, contributing to the evolution of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs."

Back to the cure. It's not an herbal remedy like echinacea or goldenseal, and it's not a mineral preparation like zinc gluconate (Cold-eeze). Those may help boost your immune system (through a mechanism not fully understood and/or by the placebo effect). The magic ingredient is *interferon*. You may remember when interferon was first introduced in the early 90's as a powerful antiviral drug for treating serious viral infections like hepatitis. Indeed, that's where interferon is mostly used today. Millions of hepatitis patients are on interferon, at a cost of up to $15,000 a year. Besides being super-expensive, interferon has some serious side effects. If you take it prophylactically for upper respiratory infections in the form of a daily nasal spray, it'll cause severe irritation, resulting in buckets of bloody mucus coming out of your nose (sorry for that disgusting illustration…)

However, a one Dr. Jack Gwaltney – considered by some to be the world's leading authority on cold prevention and treatment – has apparently found a way to use an interferon "cocktail," at the onset of symptoms, to actually cure the common cold. What's in the cocktail, besides $235 worth of interferon? (Yes, that's how much a dose costs.) Surprisingly, the drugs that really kick up interferon's cold virus-fighting power are over-the-counter antihistamines and ibuprofen (Advil). You see, one of Dr. Gwaltney's discoveries is that reducing congestion does more than make you much more comfortable, it can actually shorten the duration of your cold. Because of your stuffiness, the resulting nose-blowing actually drives the viruses deeper into your nasal cavities. A study using this new combination therapy was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2001, but has received little attention from the medical community – despite showing a 55% reduction in symptom severity, and frequently, a complete cure within 24 hours.

So, what's the problem? Why can't you get this magic cure from your local internist? Believe it or not, it's mostly a pricing issue. Most folks would rather suffer through a few bad days than shell out $250+ for the interferon cocktail (and forget about getting managed care health insurance companies to pick up that tab). Unlike the flu, "nobody" dies from a cold. Even if you don't care about the cost, you're probably not going to be able to score any interferon spray from your doctor. It's not part of the medical conventional wisdom. (By the way, the conventional wisdom goes like this: "If you come down with a headcold, and treat it with fluids, rest, and over-the-counter remedies, it'll be gone in 7 days. If you do nothing however, it'll last about a week.")

OK, so if this magic cure isn't yet available, why am I telling you about it? I'm hoping you'll support further research studies (maybe take part in one yourself if the chance arises), and support those who are petitioning Schering-Plough and Roche to expand production and drop the cost of interferon to make it an economically viable cure for everyone.

How to Survive the Cold Season

Click for my article from December 2002: How to Stay Healthy... All Winter Long. These are the important tips:

Wash your hands a lot. Most colds are spread by hand-to-hand contact. After shaking hands with anyone, consider your right hand "contaminated." Don't eat with it or touch your face until you wash with soap and warm water.

Avoid touching "public" surfaces like door handles, banisters, handrails, etc. Viruses can live on them for many hours.

Keep far away from people with cold symptoms. Be especially wary of people who say they "Might be getting sick…" They're already infected – and are highly contagious. (A cold is most communicable during the first three days.) Try to minimize contact with miscellaneous children. The average kid gets six to eight colds a year, meaning "in season," there's a pretty good chance the little bugger is a walking virus dispenser.

Try to nip your cold in the bud. If you have a faint suspicion you "Might be getting sick," don't dismiss it. Start treatment immediately. Take a good OTC antihistamine like Chlor-Trimeton 12-Hour Relief and some Advil. If you don't like taking antihistamines because they make you too drowsy during the day, Sudafed is the next best choice.

Avoid nose-blowing. This is the hardest advice to follow. Most folks cannot tolerate that stuffed-up feeling. Use Oxymetazoline (Afrin) spray or drops but try not to sniff them in deeply. Instead, breathe in steam to help loosen things up.

Go ahead and take your vitamin C, echinacea, zinc, or whatever. They won't do any harm and may help you turn the corner (especially if you believe they're going to help).

Think positive thoughts. Seriously. Mental imagery is *very* powerful. If it's been proven to help cancer patients, it'll help you with your silly little headcold.

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