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3 Types of Summer Colds Explained by an Infectious Disease Expert

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Woman sitting in lawn chair outside while blowing her nose.

When the weather warms up, or gets downright hot, you probably aren’t thinking about getting sick. It turns out some viruses thrive in the warmer months, making the chance of getting a summer cold very possible. Leyla Best, MD, infectious disease for UnityPoint Health, explains common summer colds and symptoms associated with them.

Why are Summer Colds Even Possible?

Dr. Best explains there are different theories as to why certain viruses are more common in colder months and others in warm months. 

“Winter or cold-month viruses (winter colds), are favored by factors such as decreased sunlight, which lowers the immunity of the body due to decreased amount of vitamin D. In the winter, there’s also an increased number of people gathering in indoor places, such as in schools, gyms and public transportation, which then increases the odds of viruses spreading from close contact with coughing and sneezing. Lower immune system health and closer contact make viruses such the influenza, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), rhinovirus and others more prevalent in winter, fall and early spring,” Dr. Best says.

Certain viruses are transmitted through fecal (poop) contact, as there is contamination of surfaces — like door handles. That’s one of the main factors of viruses that favor spread during summer months.

How to Tell a Summer Cold from Allergies

As the weather warms up or cools down, there’s an increase in allergies. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell if a runny nose is from allergies or a viral infection.

“My biggest tip – even though allergies may make you generally feel unwell – muscle aches, fever and diarrhea tend to be part of an infectious process,” Dr. Best says.

When to Go to Urgent Care with a Summer Cold

“These summer cold viruses typically resolve on their own without any major issues, especially in adults who’ve often built immunity in their younger years,” Dr. Best says.

If you notice any of these concerning symptoms in your child, take them to urgent care or call your doctor, immediately.

  • Very low energy, fatigue or unexpectedly falling asleep
  • Complaints of neck pain
  • Breathing very fast
  • Dehydration or lack of wet diapers/using the bathroom
  • Can’t tolerate food for an extended time

Is COVID-19 a Summer Cold?

“The ‘common’ coronaviruses (non-COVID-19) typically cause illness in winter and fall. Earlier in the pandemic, researchers expected a drop of COVID-19 infections in summer, understanding that other coronaviruses are mainly seasonal. However, this pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) is not seasonal, and we have seen it continue to cause outbreaks throughout the year, including during the warm, summer months,” Dr. Best says.

During summer, people spend more time outdoors in less crowded places, which may mean less exposure. However, when spread is high, being outdoors is only one layer of protection. During times of high spread, reduce your risk by adding other layers of protection — like masking, and always make sure you’re up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines and boosters

3 Ways to Prevent a Summer Cold

  • Hand hygiene. Wash your hands often and well, with soap and water, and teach your kids to do the same. Help little ones to wash — especially after bathroom breaks and before meals.
  • Clean objects & surfaces. In daycares, schools or when kids from different households are together, clean and disinfect toys, common surfaces, tables and chairs regularly.
  • Catch the germs. Always cover your nose when coughing or sneezing. Teach younger kids to catch the germs in their elbow, as a fun twist on this task.

What Viruses Cause Most Summer Colds? 

Three common viruses that make people, especially children, miserable in the warmer months include enteroviruses, parechoviruses and adenoviruses. These summer colds can be difficult to tell apart because their symptoms are similar. Unfortunately, once you have one of these viruses, it’s best to buckle down and let your immune system work, since there’s no way to prevent or specifically treat them besides with the relief you’ll find from over-the-counter items.

Common Summer Cold: Enteroviruses 

Enteroviruses are a group of viruses that typically cause mild illness. There are dozens of different types of enteroviruses, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are 10-to-15 million enterovirus infections in the U.S. each year. 

While there are over one-hundred known types of enteroviruses, two of the most common are coxsackie virus (commonly known as hand, foot, mouth disease) and echovirus.

When Do Enteroviruses Spread? 

Enteroviruses are known to cause infections in summer and early fall.

Who Gets Sick from Enteroviruses? 

This group of viruses often targets children and spreads easily in daycares, camps and schools. Adults can get an enterovirus but usually experience mild illness or no symptoms. Adults suffer less from enterovirus, because they’ve often built-up immunity during their younger years.

What are Enterovirus Symptoms? 

How Long Does Enterovirus Illness Last? 

It usually takes three-to-six days after exposure to notice symptoms. Once symptoms begin, it’s considered contagious for up to 10 days. It’s possible an infected person can continue to pass the illness through contact with stool up to several weeks after infection.

How Does Enterovirus Spread?

The virus spreads through food and water containing the virus. It also passes person-to-person through particles in the air you may breathe in from someone who’s coughing and sneezing. If you touch a surfaces or object with these germs, you’re also at risk.

What is the Treatment for Enterovirus?

Although there’s no specific treatment or vaccine for non-polio enteroviruses, you can try similar at-home recovery tips and trick for COVID-19 or the flu to help you feel better, faster.

Common Summer Cold: Parechovirus 

Parechovirus is closely related to the enterovirus, but it’s technically in a different virus family. Researchers have identified about 20 different types of human parechovirus.

When Do Parechoviruses Spread? 

Many strains of the virus spread in the spring, summer and fall.

Who Gets Sick from Parechovirus? 

This virus also commonly infects young children. In fact, most children have had a strain of it by the time they reach kindergarten. It’s considered more dangerous in newborn babies up to about three months of age.

What are Parechovirus Symptoms? 

In children under the age of 3 months, a more severe illness can occur causing damage to multiple organs, seizures, meningitis or, in very rare cases, death.

How Long Does Parechovirus Illness Last? 

Usually, anyone with parechovirus will experience symptoms from 3 to 10 days.

How Does Parechovirus Spread?

Parechovirus can be transmitted from symptomatic and asymptomatic people. Those who are infected can spread the illness by coughing, sneezing or through saliva for the first three weeks. It’s possible an infected person can continue to pass the illness through contact with their stool for up to six months after infection.

What is the Treatment for Parechovirus?

Although there’s no specific treatment or vaccine for parechovirus, you can try similar at-home recovery tips and trick for COVID-19 or the flu to help you feel better, faster.

Common Summer Cold: Adenovirus 

Adenovirus is a group of common viruses causing mild to severe illness. However, serious illness isn’t common. Researchers have identified more than 50 different types of adenoviruses.

When Do Adenoviruses Spread? 

This virus attacks in the warm summer months but also in the winter, making it more of a year-round virus. In the summer, this virus tends to show up with cold-like symptoms. In the winter months, stomach issues tend to surface.

Who Gets Sick from Adenovirus? 

The adenovirus mostly impacts children, but people of all ages can get sick from it. Most adults won’t have many issues with this after building up immunity to the virus during their younger years.

What are Symptoms of an Adenovirus? 

How Does Adenovirus Spread?

Adenovirus spreads similarly to the other viruses — through the air (coughing and sneezing), personal contact and by touching objects or surfaces carrying the germs. Some adenoviruses can spread through an infected person’s stool. It can also spread through unchlorinated water, such as backyard swimming pools, but that’s not very common.

How Long Does Adenovirus Illness Last? 

Usually, this virus will run its course in about five days. Recovery from moderate to severe illness may take a few weeks.

What is the Treatment for Adenovirus?

Although there’s no specific treatment or vaccine for adenoviruses, you can try similar at-home recovery tips and trick for COVID-19 or the flu to help you feel better, faster.