Summer presents a time to get away, get outside, and have some fun. And then along comes a nasty cold to put a damper on the good times. Sniffles in the summer? It’s not cold and flu season? How is that possible? Can I avoid falling victim to the summertime cold?
Cold symptoms can be caused by more than 200 different viruses. Each virus can be accompanied by the sneezing, scratchy throat, and runny nose that have become synonymous with the first signs of a cold. Rhinoviruses, the most common viral infections in humans, are usually the culprits of winter colds. Rhinoviruses and a few other cold-causing viruses prefer cooler weather. Their numbers surge in September and begin to fall off in May.
During summer months, the viral landscape shifts. “In most instances, summer and winter colds are caused by different viruses,” says Dr. Steven Bridges of Brosville Family Healthcare Center. “Summer colds are usually attributed to a non-polio enterovirus infection.”
Enteroviruses can infect the tissues of the nose and throat, eyes, digestive system and elsewhere. A few enteroviruses are causative agents of polio, but vaccines have mostly eliminated these viruses from Western countries. Far more widespread are more than 60 types of non-polio enteroviruses. They’re the second most common type of virus that infects humans. Some people—about half— with enterovirus infections don’t get sick at all. But nationwide, enteroviruses cause an estimated 10 million to 15 million illnesses each year, with most infections occurring between June and October.
Enteroviruses can present a fever that comes on suddenly. Body temperatures may range from 101 to 104 °F. Enteroviruses can also cause mild respiratory symptoms, sore throat, headache, muscle aches and gastrointestinal issues like nausea or vomiting.
“Enterovirus infections can affect all age groups, but like most viral infections, they predominate in children,” says Dr. Bridges. Adults may be protected from enterovirus infections if they’ve developed antibodies from previous exposures. But those antibodies are defenseless against a new type of enterovirus.
Less common enteroviruses can cause other symptoms. Some can lead to conjunctivitis, or pinkeye—a swelling of the outer layer of the eye and eyelid. Others can cause an illness with rash. In rare cases, enteroviruses can affect the heart or brain.
Dr. Sanjay Jaswani of Mount Hermon Family Healthcare Center says, “The key to preventing an infection from spreading is to block viral transmission.” The viruses spread through respiratory secretions, like saliva or mucus, or in the stool of an infected person. Direct contact puts you in harm’s way. Another method of transmission is by touching contaminated surfaces or objects, such as a telephone, doorknob or baby’s diaper. “Frequent hand washing and avoiding exposure to people who are infected with fever can help eliminate the spread of infection,” says Dr. Jaswani.
Summer colds caused by enteroviruses generally clear up without treatment within a few days or even a week. But if you have concerning symptoms, like a high fever or a rash, seek treatment from a healthcare professional. Urgent care clinics are ideal choices when seeking treatment. Danville Physician Practices network of Family Healthcare Centers is open on weekends and the Family Healthcare Centers in Brosville and Mount Hermon offer after-hours care.
Dr. Steven Bridges can be reached at Brosville Family Healthcare Center at 434-685-3106
Dr. Sanjay Jaswani can be reached at Mount Hermon Family Healthcare Center at 434-835-0105