The average person in the United States suffers two to five episodes of viral upper respiratory infections each year. They generally subside without any treatment and rarely cause permanent damage. Most of the causative agents are highly successful parasites, using us to replicate themselves to astronomical numbers, then moving on without killing us or even leaving long-standing immunity. Although hundreds of kinds of viruses are involved, the range of symptoms they produce is similar. Their major importance to health is that they damage respiratory tract defenses and thus pave the way for more serious bacterial diseases.
Medical practitioners have been taught for generations that the symptoms of the common cold, "if treated vigorously, will go away in seven days, whereas if left alone, they will disappear over the course of a week." This pessimistic outlook may now be changing with development of new antiviral medications. On average, a person in the United States has two to three colds per year. Colds are the leading cause of absences from school, and result in loss of about 150 million work days per year. Immunity generally lasts less than a few years.
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