The common cold is the result of an upper respiratory tract infection causing an acute syndrome characterised by a combination of non-specific symptoms, including sore throat, cough, fever, rhinorrhoea, malaise, headache, and myalgia. Respiratory viruses, alone or in combination, are the most common cause. The course f illness can be complicated by bacterial agents, causing pharyngitis or sinusitis, but the are a rare cause of cold and flu-like illnesses (CFLIs). Our understanding of CFLI epidemiology has been enhanced by molecular detection methods, particularly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. PCR has not only improved detection of previously known viruses, but within the last decade has resulted in the detection of many divergent novel respiratory virus species. Human rhinovirus (HRV) infections cause nearly all CFLIs and they can be responsible for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations. HRVs are co-detected with other respiratory viruses in statistically significant patterns, with HRVs occurring in the lowest proportion of co-detections, compared to most other respiratory viruses. Some recently identified rhinoviruses may populate an entirely new putative HRV species; HRV C. Further work is required to confirm a causal role for these newly identified viruses in CFLIs. The burden of illness associated with CFLIs is poorly documented, but where data are available, the impact of CFLIs is considerable. Individual infections, although they do not commonly result in more severe respiratory tract illness, are associated with substantial direct and indirect resource use. The product of frequency and burden for CFLIs is likely to be greater in magnitude than for any other respiratory syndrome, but further work is required to document this. Our understanding of the viral causes of CLFIs, although incomplete, has improved in recent years. Documenting burden is also an important step in progress towards improved control and management of these illnesses.