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Infectious Disease

Sick again? Why some colds won't go away

Sick Man

About a month ago Sharon Gilbert was hit with a runny nose, sore throat and a cough. The whole snotty works.

A few weeks later she thought she had recovered. Then her husband Derek got sick, and bam. "Suddenly I started getting all the symptoms [again] and it was worse," said Ms. Gilbert, a 61-year-old writer in Charleston, Ill.

In the winter that seems to have no end in many parts of the country, people like Ms. Gilbert have been plagued with the seemingly everlasting cold.

That's partly because the common cold can last longer than many people think—up to two weeks for the principal symptoms and perhaps weeks more for a cough that lingers even after the virus has been cleared away. There's also the possibility of secondary infections such as bacterial sinusitis.

And some patients might get back-to-back colds, doctors say. It isn't likely people will be reinfected with the same virus because the body builds some immunity to it. But people can pick up another of the more than 200 known viruses that can cause the common cold, some of which are worse than others.

"When you hear people who have the cold that 'won't go away,' those are typically back-to-back infections of which we see a lot of in the cold weather when people are cohorting together," said Darilyn Moyer, a physician at Temple University Hospital and chairwoman-elect of the American College of Physicians Board of Governors.

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal.