What You Should Know About Rhinovirus


A common virus may cause much more than just a cold.

Asthma attacks sometimes seem like they come out of nowhere. Kids suddenly get sick. Sometimes this is because  asthma attacks can be due to a virus. It's a virus we don't always notice. It's one that infects most of us a few times each year. It's rhinovirus. About 4 in 5 asthma exacerbations is school-age kids are likely due to viruses, most commonly rhinovirus.

There may not be any signs that there is a virus - no fevers, no chills. Parents may not realize a virus was to blame.

What is Rhinovirus?

Rhinovirus is a type of virus. It is a common cause of the common cold.

It causes about half of colds. It leads to most respiratory illnesses in the spring and fall, when it's most common. It can lead to a stuffy nose, painful sinuses, and ear infections.

The disease can also spread to the lower lungs, where it can cause more problems - like pneumonia and bronchitis.

Rhinovirus can also cause wheezing when it affects tiny airways deep in the lungs. This can lead to spasming of these small airways, causing air to become trapped and leading to wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Who is at risk?

We are all at risk. Those at more risk are those who already have asthma and can have asthma exacerbations. Also affected are others with lung problems like COPD (emphysema).

Those also at risk are babies, older people, those with weak immune systems, smokers, those who have cystic fibrosis.

How come we keep getting colds, if most are caused by rhinovirus?

There are lots of different types of rhinovirus. There are probably 160 types (serotypes) that spread. Usually, kids have 10 infections a year and adults have 2-5.

We keep bumping into new types and getting new infections.

When does it spread?

It spreads the most in autumn (September to November in the Northern Hemisphere) and spring (, March to May in Northern Hemisphere).

How does it spread?

The virus spreads by droplets. These droplets can come out of someone else's mouth with a cough. They may sneeze the droplets into the air, which then land on your face, reaching your eyes, nose, or mouth. They can spread if these droplets end up on objects you touch. Someone may sneeze into their hands, touch a doorknob, which you then touch, and then you touch your face when eating.

Some rhinoviruses can be in the stool - quite commonly.

How long does it take to get sick?

Usually, an infection starts 12 hours to 3 days after being exposed. 

How long does it take to get better?

Usually, people are sick with a cold for a week to 10 days (7-11 days). About 1 in 4 will have symptoms for 2 weeks or even longer.

Is there a treatment?

There is no specific treatment. Getting rest, keeping hydrated, and eating well are key to taking care of yourself with this infection. Sometimes a doctor may recommend a nasal decongestant or an over-the-counter drug.

There are cases where a viral infection leads to being vulnerable to other infections.

Some may then have a secondary bacterial infection. This can occur when an earache is at first due to a virus, but then bacteria cause a second infection. In these cases, antibiotics may help the bacterial infection. Antibiotics though cannot help an infection with rhinovirus itself, as rhinovirus does not respond to antibiotics.

Is there a vaccine?

No. There is work to make one, but it's not easy.

What kind of virus is it?

Rhinoviruses are a type of Enterovirus, which includes Polio, Coxsackieviruses, and EV68. Other types of enteroviruses can cause more serious illnesses - like EV68, meningitis, or other common diseases like Hand Foot and Mouth Disease.

These viruses are all picornaviruses.

How to keep yourself safe from colds:

Wash your hands Make sure kids wash their hands too. Use soap and water or else alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Wash for at least 20 seconds.

Don't touch your face - eyes, nose, and mouth. We touch our faces more than we think. We touch our faces 3-4 times an hour, oftentimes even up to 15-20 times an hour

Be careful what you touch. Sometimes doorknobs, countertops, and everything else can have a virus that can lead to infections. This is only a problem if you don't wash your hands the virus can be transferred from a sick person's hand to a doorknob to your hand

Keep your distance from those who are sick. Standing 3 to 6 feet away from someone who is sick can reduce chances of catching the virus.

How to keep everyone else safe:

Stay home if you're sick.

Wash your hands, especially after coughing, sneezing, wiping your eyes, blowing your nose.

Sneeze into a tissue, not your hand. Throw away the tissue and wash your hands. 

Cough or sneeze into your elbow or sleeve, covering your nose and mouth if you don't have a tissue. Not into your hand

Be careful of what you touch. What you touch, especially if you haven't washed your hands can spread the virus.

Wash what you touch or anyone else sick at home touches, such as doorknobs, countertops, toys.

Step back from people. No need to hug, kiss, or shake hands. Step back at least 3-6 feet, if you can, especially if you're coughing or sneezing. Being very close means you are more likely to transmit the infection.

Continue Reading