Rhinovirus (Common Cold)

About This Disease

The rhinovirus is the most predominant cause of the common cold. The common cold is the main reason children miss school and adults miss work. Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children may have even more.

Signs and Symptoms

Asymptomatic rhinovirus infection is uncommon. Symptoms of the common cold caused by the rhinovirus include sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, headaches, and body aches. Infants and children may develop fever, and otitis media. Infants may develop more severe disease such as croup, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia. Rhinoviruses may trigger asthma attacks.


The rhinovirus is spread through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, and by touching contaminated surfaces and objects. The virus can survive on surfaces for many hours.


Diagnosis is based on clinical symptoms, and laboratory testing. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can be used as part of a panel of respiratory viruses


There is no specific treatment for rhinovirus infections. Treatments include over-the-counter medicine to help with symptom relief, resting, and drinking plenty of fluids.

Risk in Hawaii

Infections due to rhinovirus are most common during the fall and spring, but it is possible to get infected at any time of the year.


There is no vaccine for the rhinovirus. To reduce the risk of spreading and getting infected with the rhinovirus, wash hands often with soap and water, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing (cough into a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve), and disinfect objects and surfaces regularly.

Information for Clinicians

Rhinovirus can cause symptoms such as runny nose, congestion, sore throat, and cough. Antibiotics should not be prescribed when a patient is suspected of a cold and should not be used to prevent severe disease caused by cold viruses. If still unsure about whether illness is caused by a virus or bacteria, a nasopharyngeal specimen can be obtained for respiratory panel testing at Hawaii’s major clinical laboratories. Consult your clinical laboratory partner for more information.

More information can be found on the CDC website resource page for Health Care Professionals



Last Reviewed: December 2018