Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

About Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold Virus

Rhinoviruses is classified as ss+ RNA genomes Rhinovirus. The RNA protein molecules forming rhinovirus are enclosed in capsid. Several viruses cause symptoms like common cold, which includes fever, nasal discharge and sore throat. The most often symptoms like common cold are caused by rhinovirus. Rhinovirus is a subtype of Picornavirus and predominantly causes symptoms of common cold. There are 99 subtypes of Rhinovirus identified and classified according to description of surface protein.

Rhinovirus or common cold viruses are broadly Subtype in A, B and C viruses. Most severe infection is caused by C subtype rhinovirus or common cold virus. Influenza infection is not a common cold or caused by rhinovirus. Influenza is caused by Orthomyxoviridae RNA virus.

Six to twelve rhinovirus or common cold infection is observed over a year. The infection is year around and most often seen from September to April. The rhinoviruses multiplies and spreads rapidly during beginning of winter and end of winter.

Common cold or rhinovirus often changes the genetic strain by mutation and difficult to control by vaccine and antiviral medications. Common cold vaccine is not available since there are over 99 subtypes and rapid mutation.

Spread of Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold Virus

Spread of Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold Virus

The rhinovirus or common cold virus infection is most often seen in younger children and elderly patients. The spread of rhinovirus infection or common cold virus is more common in children attending nursery, preschool, daycares and elementary school.

The main causes of spread of rhinovirus infection or common cold virus include:


Cough droplets are the particles of pharyngeal or tracheal secretions that contain rhinovirus or common cold virus. Droplets spreads directly into the respiratory tract of healthy individual when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. Inhalation of droplets containing rhinovirus or common cold virus causes spread of viruses in pharynx and trachea resulting in disease such as pharyngitis, adenoiditis and trachea-bronchitis.

Smearing of Nasal Secretion

Rhinovirus or common cold virus causes continuous dribbling of nasal secretions in infected individuals or kids. The nasal secretion contains common cold or rhinovirus. Smearing of infected secretions over the utensils, appliances or furniture causes rapid spread of common cold infection. Rhinovirus survives for 3 to 4 hours outside human body. Infected individuals spread the secretion with hand, handkerchiefs or tissue papers.

Sharing Contaminated Objects

Another common route of spread of rhinovirus infection or common cold virus is sharing of contaminated objects. The rhinovirus or common cold virus may transmit from contaminated object to healthy individual through nasal route when contaminated handkerchiefs or tissue paper is shared.

Contaminated Food

The oral intake of contaminated food with common cold or rhinovirus causes spread of infection in oral cavity, esophagus and intestine. Food is contaminated by common cold or rhinovirus when viruses are spread, when an infected individual touches food or utensils containing food. Similarly, healthy individual catch infection from contaminated food by not washing hands, or by touching contaminated furniture, utensils or surrounding appliances.

Risk Factors of Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold Virus

The rhinoviruses infection or common cold are also smeared and spread through droplets over the chairs and furniture, which is shared in bus or airplane by infected as well as healthy individual, which results in spread of infection. Poor housing, overcrowding and poor sanitation causes rapid spread of common cold or rhinovirus infection because of close proximity of infected and healthy individual. The rhinovirus or common cold infection spreads rapidly in immunocompromised patient.
Incubation Period of Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold Virus Rhinovirus or common cold virus has wide incubation period, which is spread between 18 to 72 hours, since the exposure to the virus.

Symptoms of Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold Virus

Symptoms and signs of common cold caused by rhinovirus usually last for 3 to 7 days.


The rhinovirus infection is known as common cold when patient suffers with fever of 38 to 39.50 C or 98 to 1010 F, running nose and throat pain.


Rhinitis is a nasal viral infection caused by common cold or rhinovirus infection. Rhinitis causes symptoms and signs like increased nasal secretion, nasal congestion results in difficult breathing and red nose. Nasal discharge can be clear and watery, yellow or green in color. The nasal mucosal membrane is congested and edematous.


Patient suffering with common cold or rhinoviral infection often complains of sore throat or throat irritation. The pharynx typically appears normal, without any redness, discharge or ulceration.

Neck Pain

Neck pain caused by inflamed and enlarged cervical lymph nodes. The painful swelling may last for 7 to 10 days and later swelling may continue as pain less lymphadenopathy (lymph node swelling).


The pharyngeal mucosal infection of rhinovirus or common cold may extend to the larynx causing hoarseness, shortness of breath with laryngeal edema and often unable to talk or whisper.

General Malaise

General discomfort is associated with rhinoviral infection spread in skeletal muscles. Symptoms and signs observed are as follows-

  • Muscle ache and weakness
  • Fatigue and malaise,
  • Exhaustion

Systemic Infection

Rarely common cold causes systemic infection. Rhinovirus infection is mostly limited to upper respiratory tract. The systemic spread of common cold causes following symptoms and signs-

  • Headache
  • Bronchitis- Broncho constriction results in short of breath and rhonchi are heard during auscultation.
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Facial and ear pressure
  • Loss of sense of smell and taste
  • Otitis media
  • Sinusitis

Investigation to Diagnose Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold

The symptoms like common cold are caused by several viral and bacterial infection. The diagnosis of common cold or rhinovirus infection depends on findings of lab test. Here are some investigations that help to rule out other conditions and useful in confirming the diagnosis rhinovirus infection or common cold.

Blood Examination

  • WBC- increased in bacterial infection, but may be normal in patient suffering with common cold.
  • ESR- Normal
  • Red Blood Cell count- Normal
  • Hemoglobin- Normal
  • Rhinovirus culture has rarely been found useful for precise diagnosis.

Treatment of Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold

Most cases of rhinovirus or common cold infection are treated conservatively.

Conservative Treatment for Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold Includes

  • Rest- Patient often prefers to sleep or rest in reclined position of 45° angle.
  • Steam Inhalation – Inhaling hot steam is useful. Adding essential oils like eucalyptus oil, menthol, etc. may also help to relieve nasal congestion.

Antiviral Medications to Treat Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold

  • Interferon alpha- The medications used intra-nasally. The repeated use causes resistance.
  • Pleconaril is often prescribed when systemic symptoms are observed.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications for Rhinovirus Infection or Common Cold

  • Anti-inflammatory medications such as Tylenol are prescribed for fever and muscle pain.

H1-Receptor Blocker

  • The nasal discharge is treated with topical antihistaminic medicines. Alternatively, ipratropium bromide is also used to reduce nasal secretion and blockade.

Nasal Decongestant

  • The pills or liquid syrup of pseudoephedrine and topical decongestants (oxymetazoline and phenylephrine) are commonly used to relieve the nasal blockade.


  • Most patients are advised to drink extra fluids as tolerated. I.V. fluid is rarely needed.


The rhinovirus (common cold) has 99 serotype. An individual can be infected with any of 99 subtype virus. The wide range of subtypes and rapid mutations of subtype of rhinovirus makes it difficult to manufacture any vaccine.

Prevention of Rhinovirus Infection

  • Use proper hand washing methods to prevent the spread of Rhinovirus or Common Cold Infection
  • Cover mouth when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid smearing the furniture, utensils and appliances at home and school.
  • Disinfect and frequently clean utensils, appliances and furnitures. Disinfecting used is phenol-alcohol–based compounds
  • Discontinuing smoking and alcohol.
  • Follow a healthy diet and boost natural immunity to fight against such viruses.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: August 29, 2017

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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