Is it possible to catch the same cold twice?

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It certainly feels like you can when you’ve been ill for about 7 weeks.

By Catriona Harvey-Jenner

It’s that time of year again. Christmas is approaching, there’s festive lights all around, and you’re stuck with a huge cold. It’s always the way.

Be it the cold weather lowering your immune system, or maybe the fact you’ve barely given your body a single moment to rest since Christmas music started playing on the radio, during winter you’re far more susceptible to getting ill.

And then you pass it to your partner and kids. Or your colleagues. And before you know it, it’s come right back around to you. You’re ill again. What is this? Some kind of sick joke? It does beg the question: can you really catch the same bug twice? Because it sure seems like you can.

The good news is: no, you can’t. The bad news is: there are so many viruses and germs flying around this time of year, you’ve got a high chance of catching another one instead. Which is just great. Here’s how it works:

‘The body’s immune system recognises and fights off germs such as viruses that have invaded your blood,’ Dr Richard Pebody, Public Health England’s Head of Influenza and other respiratory viruses, tells Cosmopolitan UK.

When your immune system detects flu and cold viruses, it will make antibodies to attack them, which means that if you’re exposed to a virus after you’ve already come into contact with it, your immune system will recognise it and will already be armed to fight it off before it takes hold.

But here’s the annoying bit. ‘The viruses that cause flu can change every year, so even if you’ve had flu recently it’s recommended that you get a vaccination that matches the new viruses that might circulate each year,’ Dr Pebody advises.

‘Because flu is caused by several viruses, the immunity you naturally develop after infection will only protect you against that one strain – so you could also go on to catch another strain.’

And it’s a pretty similar situation with colds, explains the doctor. ‘It is unlikely you will get the same cold twice in quick succession, however due to the many viruses which cause a cold you may well catch another cold virus,’ he says.

Remember that flu is very infectious and is spread through coughs and sneezes, which can then live on hands and surfaces for up to 24 hours. So regular washing is essential.

‘Colds are also easily spread to other people,’ says Dr Pebody. ‘The best way to help avoid spreading a cold includes using tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze, bin used tissues as quickly as possible, and washing your hands with warm water and soap.’

Or just don’t leave the house. Either tactic will do.

This winter, NHS England and Public Health England are helping the public to better understand what actions they can take to manage their own health and get the best out of their NHS with the ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign. Read all about it here.

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