If I get infected once with the virus which causes a common cold, does that mean I will not get infected with the same strain of the virus ever in my lifetime?

Is the immune system capable and smart enough to recognize the viruses that have infected me in the past, and kill them before it initiates its incubation within a cell? If so, why do I keep getting a common cold again and again? Do I keep exposing myself to a new different strain of the same virus?

Based on the fact that there are over 200 different types of viruses that cause a common cold. To what extent do you think creating a universal vaccine for the common cold could be successful, and what are the challenges facing scientists in creating a successful universal vaccine?


2 Answers 2


If I get infected once with the virus which causes a common cold, does that mean I will not get infected with the same strain of the virus ever in my lifetime?

It depends on quirks of your immune system and the viral load you're exposed to, but in theory (based on vaccination and other studies), presence of the virus will trigger a suppressive response, not to nasal mucosal invasion but to viral replication and cell destruction/inflammation to the degree that you clinically manifest "a cold".

Regarding your quirks,

The persistence of high-titer serotype-specific antibody is associated with protection from infection as well as reduced symptom severity following experimental challenge with the same serotype (52). However, there is little cross-neutralization among serotypes, which presents a challenge to vaccine development, given that there are more than 100 different known HRV serotypes (53). Further support for the role of humoral immunity in the prevention and control of HRV infection was observed in a study of patients with primary hypogammaglobulinemia. These patients experienced more frequent and severe HRV infections than their healthy spouses despite the administration of replacement immunoglobulin therapy (54).

That's only the beginning. Immunology is very complex.

To what extent do you think creating a universal vaccine for the common cold could be successful...

Close to, if not, zero.

There are about 120 distinctly different serotypes of rhinovirus which cause the "common cold", which could require 120 separate vaccines. Also a significant percentage of "colds" are caused by other types of viruses (coronavirus - like tat in China right now, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and parainfluenza viruses) as well as some bacteria.

Human coronaviruses, members of the Coronaviridae family, were first identified in 1962 and have been particularly difficult to isolate by use of standard cell culture techniques.

One needs to reliably grow a virus before making a vaccine.

Efforts at vaccine development are hindered by the existence of more than 100 HRV serotypes with high-level sequence variability in the antigenic sites.


Compared to patients with coronavirus-associated colds, there is no difference in respiratory symptom severity or duration.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: the older you get, the fewer new viruses you're exposed to (if you stay in one geograpical location), and the fewer colds you get. I haven't had a "common cold" in a few years now. If I move across the continent, I will have more colds.


Edit: I'm new at this. In response to recommendations I received I've attempted to insert web citations. LMK if I did it wrong...

Yes, your immune system can recognize and protect against viruses you've been infected with in the past. That's why folks typically only get the chickenpox once. But getting a cold does NOT protect you against future colds, largely for the same reasons that a vaccine is highly unlikely (read on...).

There are multiple barriers to creating a successful vaccine against the common cold. First, as you noted, what we call 'the common cold' is really a constellation of symptoms that can be caused by over 200 different organisms 1, most of them viruses (including rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, coronavirus, adenovirus) but also some bacteria (haemophilus influenzae, mycoplasma pneumoniae, and a couple others named ___ pneumoniae)2. A successful vaccine would need to protect against at least the most common ones (similar to the yearly flu vaccine which typically covers 3 strains of influenza) - a more difficult task than creating a vaccine for, say, polio (which only has 3 strains 3). Second, the reason you have to get the flu shot every year is because the virus mutates. The same goes for cold viruses - they mutate, and rather frequently 1, meaning a new vaccine would need to be developed at least annually.

Additionally colds frankly just aren't a very high priority. While it is true that young babies, the very elderly, and those with certain health conditions can suffer serious complications from a cold, most of us just get an annoying cough & nasal symptoms for a few days. Not a lot of investment is going to be made in preventing such a disease 4 (especially when there's so much money to be made in mitigating treatments).

  • a pediatrician [all of the above is factual information except the $ made from cold treatments which represents my opinion ;) ]
  • Hi Nicole, welcome to the site. Although you may be a pediatrician and your answer sounds authoritative, we have a policy that all answers must show supporting references. They don't have to be extensive; they just have to support your main points. That policy applies to everyone, even physicians. (Both answers on this question were written by physicians, btw.) The lack of supporting citations may be why your answer received downvotes.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 0:00
  • 2
    "Not a lot of investment is going to be made in preventing such a disease..." This is untrue. The "common cold" presents an enormous economic burden on developed nations, which is why so very much research is devoted to finding a way to prevent them. Also, I was a molecular biologist before becoming an an MD, and I provide references for my answers, which is easy for anyone familiar with the literature. Anyone can claim to be anything on the internet. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 0:01
  • Also, if you were a pediatrician, you would know that "PediCrud" decreases with time. If rhinoviruses mutated as quickly as you state, it would never abate. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 0:12
  • 1
    I don’t see a private company making the investment even if it could be done, at least not at the present time. All someone has to do is not get the desired result (or pretend not to) and get on social media and slam the vaccine. The situation may be different in other parts of the world besides the USA.
    – Gordon
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 5:18
  • (Employers can get behind the flu vaccine but it would be harder to get them committed to a cold vaccine I think. )
    – Gordon
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 5:20

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