Common Cold Unit

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The Common Cold Unit (CCU) or Common Cold Research Unit (CCRU) was a unit of the British Medical Research Council which undertook laboratory and epidemiological research on the common cold between 1946 and 1989. It was set up on the site of the Harvard Hospital, a former military hospital at Harnham Down near Salisbury in Wiltshire. Common colds account for a third of all acute respiratory infections[where?][when?] and the economic costs are substantial in terms of sick leave.

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 1990. The final director was David Tyrrell, whose autobiography describes his work at the CCU from 1957.

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


  • Tyrrell, D A J (June 1992). "A view from the Common Cold Unit". Antiviral Res. 18 (2): 105–125. doi:10.1016/0166-3542(92)90032-Z. PMC 7133934. PMID 1329647.
  • Tyrrell, David; Michael Fielder (2002). Cold Wars: The Fight against the Common Cold. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-263285-X.
  • Richmond, Caroline (June 2005). "Obituary: David Tyrrell". BMJ. 330 (7505): 1451. doi:10.1136/bmj.330.7505.1451. PMC 558394.
  • "David Tyrrell obituary". The Times. London. 2005-05-18. Retrieved 2008-02-17.
  • "The Medical Research Council Common Cold Research Unit". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 2008-02-17.

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Coordinates: 51°3′12″N 1°48′8″W / 51.05333°N 1.80222°W / 51.05333; -1.80222