Each year, children have around 6 to 8 colds, and adults have 2 to 4 colds.[1][2][3][4][5] Adults who are in contact with children get more colds than adults who are not in contact with children.[6] Upper respiratory tract infections, nasal congestion, throat complaints, and cough are responsible for 11% of general practice consultations in western countries.[1] The common cold is the most common acute illness in the US, responsible for approximately 37 million (3%) ambulatory care visits each year.[7] A US study found that 23.6% of adults had experienced a cold in the previous 4 weeks.[8]

There are no major sex or ethnicity differences in incidence. Most infections occur in the winter period. It is also thought that different viruses may be responsible for summer and winter colds.[6] The condition is highly contagious, though it is unclear whether the main mode of spread is by hand-to-hand contact, aerosol between people, or contamination of surfaces by aerosol that then transfers the infective pathogen to buccal mucous membranes (e.g., when eating).

Accompanying mortality/morbidity is rare, although common colds are responsible for considerable discomfort, absenteeism from school and work, and healthcare costs.[8]

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