Learn about Life in the 1920s


SCIENTIFIC interest in a disease is apt to vary directly with its rarity, remarks The Lancet (London), so that minor maladies, and in particular the common cold, do not receive that attention which their prevalence would appear to warrant. Of recent years the common cold, however, has been studied more assiduously and in particular from the standpoint of prevention. Dr. Leonard Hill and Dr. Argyll Campbell devote a chapter in their new book on "Health and Environment" to the cause and prevention of "colds." Says The Lancet:

They summarize the supposed causes under five headings: chills and drafts, certain conditions of the weather, irritation of the respiratory mucous membrane, infection, and bad ventilation. Each of these supposed causes is then discust in turn. Exposure by itself will not cause "colds" in healthy individuals, as is shown by the immunity to these disorders enjoyed by Arctic explorers and fishermen at sea. If, however, a person is already infected there appears to be some slight derangement of the heat-regulating mechanism, so that he feels a draft of cold air more easily than a normal, healthy person and attributes a "cold" already "on him" to this cause. Cold, dry weather and strong drying winds do not favor epidemics of "colds," while unfavorable weather conditions, such as a high relative humidity of the atmosphere with a variable temperature, certainly do. Irritation of the respiratory mucous membrane by dusts and chemical irritants is also a cause of "colds," while a certain section of the community appears to suffer from a nervous derangement of the nasal mucous membrane, so that sudden changes of temperature and atmosphere may produce an acute paroxysm. While "infection is not the whole story," there is no doubt about the importance of this as a cause of the common cold, and such factors as closeness of contact, duration of contact, and general conditions of ventilation vary for this as for other bacterial infections.

In the opinion of the authors, bad ventilation is the commonest cause of "colds." Warm, stagnant air produces a congested, swollen appearance in the nasal mucous membrane, which becomes covered with thick secretion and affords a weak spot for bacterial attack. In cool air, on the other hand, the membrane is pale and taut and well moistened with secretion. To quote further:

Added to the hot air so often present in the upper layers of a badly ventilated room is the occurrence of cold air near the feet. Thus "cool breezes blowing round the head, the radiant heat of the sun, and a warm ground to stand on are the ideal outdoor conditions." The reverse of this which produces cold feet and stuffy heads is said by these authors to be present in the House of Commons! If these elementary facts about ventilation were appreciated, a great many "colds" would be prevented. Dr. Russell L. Cecil, in a little popular book on this subject, emphasizes this, pointing out that the "non-contagious cold" largely depends upon the condition in which we keep our nasal mucous membranes.

Besides dealing with the more common methods of treating "colds," Dr. Cecil describes the chlorin treatment, in which dilute chlorin gas is inhaled by patients. This method, based upon the fact that no cases of influenza occurred among the workers in a chlorin plant during the epidemic of 1918, seems to have a certain amount of vogue in America, and Dr. Cecil speaks well of the results. The relationship between influenza and the common cold as suggested by this therapeutic measure is an aspect of "colds" which is especially dealt with in a review of the literature on influenza and the common cold by J. G. Townsend, published by the United States Public Health Service. It is claimed that the association between influenza and minor respiratory disturbances, especially that known as the "common cold," is "more intimate than has been recognized or conceded." The Public Health Service arranged in 1923 to receive fortnightly reports from 10,000 persons in the United States as to whether they had suffered from any of these minor respiratory disorders during the period in question. The final analysis of the material thus collected may help to elucidate the problem.

Source: The Literary Digest for September 12, 1925