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In the Next Generation, Beverly Crusher mentions the common cold has been eradicated. In Enterprise, Malcolm Reed gets the common cold, much to his consternation, for which he shouts something like "We can travel faster than the speed of light, but can't cure the common cold!"

So when and how do they cure it?

  • Interesting prediction. Actually, this is something that could realistically happen not too far in the future. – Konrad Rudolph Jul 20 '12 at 15:23
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    I am pretty sure it was 2013 – Chad Jul 20 '12 at 15:33
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    @KonradRudolph Very unlikely. Viruses are difficult to safely kill, and as noted in my answer, the "common cold" isn't one virus, or even a couple of viruses - it's hundreds. – Izkata Jul 22 '12 at 2:27
  • @Izkata People are working on it, and there are several complementary approaches to universal anti-viral drugs. Furthermore, many molecular biologists I’ve talked to are of the opinion that the common cold could already be healed today if only there were a commercial incentive to do so. Yes, the common cold is an amalgamation of viruses but that’s not relevant when you have a common attach mechanism. – Konrad Rudolph Jul 27 '12 at 9:12
  • I reckon they just all got really good at washing their hands all the time. Which is actually pretty much what Mario’s answer is saying. – Paul D. Waite Apr 6 '13 at 9:41
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To be clear, Dr. Crusher never says they eradicated the common cold. In "The Battle", she says:

It may be true that headaches were once quite common, but this was in the days before the brain was charted, before we understood the nature of pain, when we were suffering from such things as the common cold.

But in "Datalore", Wesley Crusher and Data have the following exchange:

Wesley: Have you got a cold?
Data: A cold what?
Wesley: It's a disease my mother says people used to get.

Which does provide some circumstantial evidence that if it wasn't eradicated, it was certainly uncommon enough by the time Wesley was around to be something he knew nothing about except to parrot what his mother told him at one point.

While there is no canon specification for when the common cold was eradicated (or cured), one can formulate a conjecture based on circumstantial data like Wesley's recollection.

Here's the evidence in rough chronological order of what they describe:

  • As Memory Alpha notes, Dr. McCoy was still searching for a cure in the episode "Plato's Stepchildren".

  • Then, in "Ensign Ro", there's Picard's recollection of ginger tea being his "Aunt Rebecca's cure for the common cold."

  • Memory Alpha also refers to Tom Paris who, in the episode "Cathexis", tells the Doctor he had the common cold when he was nine years old.

  • Finally, there's Wesley's recollection in "Datalore" mentioned above

So, given these data points, I think it's safe to say the common cold was cured and/or eradicated in all but name sometime between the time Tom Paris was nine years old and when Wesley Crusher was born, or at least early childhood.

The year Tom Paris was age 9 is pretty tricky: his age is not mentioned in canon, so we don't really know. We could speculate that Tom Paris was the same age as his actor, Robert Duncan McNeill. Wikipedia says he was born in 1964, which would make him 30 years old when "Cathexis" aired.

Memory Alpha states that the events of that episode takes place in 2371, so if Tom Paris is the same age as McNeill, he would've been 9 in 2350.

Now, Memory Alpha states Wesley Crusher was born in 2348. It's unreferenced, but it's a good enough guess and likely comes from someone mentioning his age somewhere in the series, so I'd trust it.

Since Paris mentions having the cold after Wesley's birth year, it's hard to say when exactly it could've been eradicated. If there aren't any continuity errors, I'd wager it happened sometime between 2351 and 2353, which is when Wesley was 5 and likely would've already started to learn about the world in a substantial fashion from his mother.

But, on the other hand, it's likely there are continuity errors, and the writers didn't really expect to put too fine a point on it other than to trot it out any time they wanted to demonstrate how "advanced" Starfleet medical science was.

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    I'm guessing Wesley's birth year was inferred from his father dying when he was 5 years old – Izkata Jul 20 '12 at 12:26
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    Great research. – Plutor Jul 20 '12 at 12:50
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Most disease had been eliminated by the 2300s. However, like @MarkTrapp notes, some characters mention having had a cold in the early/mid 2300s.

One of the reasons the common cold is so difficult to find a cure for is that it's actually a grouping of over 200 different viruses (and probably even more forms mutated into existence by the time Star Trek takes place). The apparent discrepancy between the years could be explained away if most of those had been cured, but not all of them.

The common cold could then be said to be cured by the layman, since contracting it is something that would happen so rarely, even though cases of it would still pop up.

3

I actually believe they didn't eradicate the common cold (at least not the way things like black death almost disappeared). It just became more and more unlikely to suffer it (especially while being in space).

First of all you need the viruses in the air: More than one episode noted that there are air/bio filters aboard starships and space stations as well as built into transporters. As such this would make it a lot harder for someone with the illness to enter the starship/environment. Even if someone did (e.g. travelling in a tiny can of shuttle as McCoy preferred), it's still not that likely to easily spread amongst the crew. Also it's very likely to consider there'd be more effective ways to cure this, so it would be unlikely someone would be sick for an extended period of time (just being beamed for a short moment should actually be enough for the filters to kick in).

  • Actually the black death is a pretty good comparison. People do still occasionally get the bubonic plague, it just isn't very common, and it isn't very dangerous as long as you get to a doctor and get treated. It isn't "cured" so much as it is just such a non-issue that it seems like an old-timey disease to us now. – Kevin Wells Oct 13 '16 at 17:06

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