Catch a cold for the holidays: a history of The Common Cold Unit

coldwars.jpgThe Common Cold Unit was formed in 1946, "a collection of huts" in Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK. Volunteers were recruited to come and get infected with cold germs in an effort to understand how the rhinovirus incubates and spreads. Created by David Tyrrell who, in the course of his work "discovered almost everything we know about cold viruses" and published extensively worked at the CCU until its closure after which he published this book.
Its aim was to undertake laboratory and epidemiological research on the common cold, with a view to reducing its human and economic costs... 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.
The unit was closed in 1989 after failing to find a cure. The British Library has archived a series of interviews with doctors and other CCU staff, part of their Archival Sound Recordings collections. Wonky sniffling details can be read in this PDF "The Common Cold--My Favourite Infection" written by a CCU researcher.
A few recruiting articles from the archives of The London Times. commoncold3.jpg commoncold.jpg commoncold2.jpg [note: the CCU is not to be confused with Porton Down, thanks to John Overholt for research help]


  1. My parents attended the Salisbury centre in 1969, the year before I was born. They have great photos and stories of walking in the countryside wearing masks, and having books and magazines disinfected before reading. I checked the dates carefully and am sad to report I was NOT conceived there!

  2. Did anyone go to the cold unit for a ‘holiday’ in the early 1970s? We went twice and it was a great experience. I would love to hear from anyone who may have been there.

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