Is the super cold coming to Canada?: An expert weighs in on the 'worst cold' ever

·5 min read

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What is the super cold?
What is the super cold? (Getty Image)

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If you know someone in the United Kingdom or have been on Twitter lately, you’ve probably heard of the super cold. It’s become a popular conversation topic, with many people sharing their experience with the aggressive virus.

Some Twitter users are calling it the "worst cold they’ve ever experienced." Others are including more graphic details saying it feels like they have “razor blades lodged in their throat" and that their throat feels like it's "lined with chainsaws."

To date, it looks like the super cold has only been documented in the U.K. However, now that cold season has resurfaced, can we expect to see the super cold in Canada as well?

What is the super cold?

The name alone suggests that the virus is worse than the common cold many of us experience every year, but some doctors are left with questions. 

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre, says the super cold is not a formal diagnosis. After reading symptoms being discussed online, Vinh says they appear to be similar to a regular cold.

“The question is, is it simply a cold caused by any one of the common respiratory viruses that occurs in the winter, and people are just experiencing it now?” Vinh said in an interview with Yahoo Canada. “Are they hyper attuned to the symptoms that perhaps the severity of which, I wouldn’t say are exaggerated, but perhaps inflated? So, it’s hard to know exactly what is meant by this super cold.”

Cold season has begun — but are we at risk for the super cold that's spreading throughout the U.K.? (Getty Images)
Cold season has begun — but are we at risk for the super cold that's spreading throughout the U.K.? (Getty Images)

As for what triggered the rise of the super cold, Vinh says it may have to do with COVID-19 public health measures across the pond combined with the U.K.'s "poor vaccination rates." 

 In July 2021, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted all lockdown restrictions, including mandatory mask wearing, limited capacity in crowded venues and public spaces and people are not required to show proof of vaccination to attend concerts or sporting events.

Although Johnson has mentioned moving to "Plan B" to manage COVID, the U.K currently remains restriction-free.

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Cold vs. COVID-19 symptoms

As we head into another cold season and with COVID-19 still circulating, the problem will be differentiating COVID symptom from other respiratory viruses.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the common cold is a contagious respiratory virus that affects the upper respiratory tract, nose, throat, sinuses and trachea.

Vinh explains that there are some symptoms, including cough, sore throat and fever that are among the similarities between the common cold and symptoms of COVID.

“Take for example loss of smell, if you’ve ever had a cold and your nose is blocked you’ve also had loss of smell and so it’s not very good discriminating one versus the other,” he explains.

Vinh, who is also a clinician scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, says that no one should be dismissing symptoms or self-diagnosing.

An infectious disease expert says Canada's public health mandates to prevent the spread of COVID may also help the country avoid the
An infectious disease expert says Canada's public health mandates to prevent the spread of COVID may also help the country avoid the "super cold." Getty Images

“You could be very wrong and of course if you expose or transmit to other people who are at risk it could be very disastrous so the only way you could tell is with an actual micro-biological test,” Vinh cautions. “There is no way to tell just by assessing somebody or looking at them if they have one versus the other."

Can we expect the super cold in Canada?

According to Vinh, it’s hard to predict what kind of cold season Canada will see this year and into 2022.

Although there has been an uptick in various respiratory viruses in Quebec over the last month, Vinh says the increase isn't necessarily a surprise considering the time of year.

“The reason we may be spared this super cold outbreak compared to the U.K. is because the measures we have in place to protect us from COVID also protect us from these other respiratory viruses,” he says.

However, Vinh says, more people could develop a cold if more public health measures are loosened across the country — (Vinh points to Quebec high school students being allowed to ditch masks in classrooms as an example.

Experts warn you should seek medical attention if you develop a fever, cough or trouble breathing. (Image via Getty)
Experts warn you should seek medical attention if you develop a fever, cough or trouble breathing. (Image via Getty)

And then there’s the issue of indoor gatherings.

“With winter our ventilation will be limited because most outdoor activities will be brought indoors,” he said. “That’s where we have to be a little bit worried because indoor gatherings are what always leads to respiratory virus outbreaks every winter.”

Vinh recommends staying vigilant and keeping an eye on any symptoms that develop. If you start experiencing serious symptoms, like fever and have difficulty breathing, Vinh says that people should seek medical attention, since it could be a sign of a bacterial super infection that may require X-rays and antibiotics. 

With cold season here to stay for at least a few more months and flu season expected shortly, experts are reminding the public to continue wearing face masks, practice social distancing and maintain good hand hygiene to help protect themselves from colds, the flu and COVID.

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