Common Cold Unit

Common Cold Unit

In Britain, the Common Cold Unit (CCU), also known as the Common Cold Research Unit (CCRU), was set up by the civilian Medical Research Council (MRC) in 1946 on the site of a former military hospital, the Harvard Hospital, at Harnham Down near Salisbury in Wiltshire. Its aim was to undertake laboratory and epidemiological research on the common cold, with a view to reducing its human and economic costs; common colds account for a third of all acute respiratory infections and the economic costs are substantial in terms of days off work.

Thirty volunteers were required every fortnight during trial periods. The unit advertised in newspapers and magazines for volunteers, who were paid a small amount. A stay at the unit was presented in these advertisements as an unusual holiday opportunity. The volunteers were infected with preparations of cold viruses and typically stayed for ten days. They were housed in small groups of two or three, with each group strictly isolated from the others during the course of the stay. Volunteers were allowed to go out for walks in the countryside south of Salisbury, but residential areas were out of bounds.

Human coronaviruses, which are responsible for about 10% of common colds, were first isolated from volunteers at the unit in 1965. The CCU continually recruited volunteers for research into the common cold until its closure in 1989.

The CCU was sometimes confused with the Microbiological Research Establishment at nearby Porton Down, with which it occasionally collaborated but was not officially connected.

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