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Fears of a ‘mystery virus’ spreading through TikTok – among young people who say they don’t test positive for COVID, flu or other common bugs

There is widespread fear on social media platforms about a ‘mystery virus’ that has caused Covid-like symptoms, despite many testing negative for the virus, as well as influenza and RSV.

People have described being sick for weeks with a high fever, nausea, difficulty breathing, loss of sense of smell and fatigue.

But health experts say the virus is less mysterious than it is painted online. Viruses circulate all year round, and this ‘mystery virus’ is probably one of the most common seasonal diseases suppressed during the Covid pandemic.

It is thought that there is a dual effect at play. People are hypersensitive to their own health after the pandemic, and our immune systems have been weakened by things like lockdowns and working from home, while we weren’t exposed to germs, which made illnesses feel more intense.

The current test positivity rate is about eight percent. Although this rate has decreased, immunologists are still concerned about its spread in the community, citing evidence from wastewater samples

While thousands called their illness a mysterious virus, their reported symptoms don’t necessarily overlap. Some have compared it to a respiratory infection similar to Covid, while others have described symptoms consistent with strep throat.

Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said The hill: ‘The symptoms that are described are quite consistent with, you know, a lot of viruses that are not ‘mystery viruses’, which are things that circulate all year round. The common cold is one of them.’

An increase in the number of other respiratory infections can be expected as the season progresses, concurrently with Covid and the flu, and as more people interact in person, the spread of infectious disease becomes much more likely.

And because Covid has been a major health problem for years, it’s also likely that people have in some ways forgotten that there is an exhaustive list of other infections that can strike throughout the year.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, a longtime physician and executive director of the American Public Health Association, said, “There is a collective amnesia of what life was like five years ago.

‘RSV is getting more exposure and higher billing in conversations because there is a vaccine for it. And we don’t have a vaccine against the common cold yet. And again, it’s almost 200 different viruses.”

He added: ‘I would advise them that this is cold and flu season, and this is consistent with what we are seeing in cold and flu season.’

One user on TikTok describes her illness said: ‘A few weeks ago I was sick for about two weeks. The first four days were absolutely horrible. I tested for Covid, I tested for both flu A and B, I tested for strep and was negative for everything twice.

“I had a fever for about four days straight, I was super congested, short of breath and loss of sense of smell. Everything you would think about if you have Covid or the flu. I was also very dizzy and lightheaded.’

Another said: ‘Do you all have the virus currently circulating in the United States? The one with the sore throat that hurts no matter what you drink, the constant phlegm choking you in the middle of the night, the severe earache, the migraines, the body ache that feels like you just played a basketball game and no subs have been called for you ? Fever, chills?

“You know, strep, flu, the common cold and bronchitis are actually all mixed together?”

Some experts have posited that, contrary to popular belief, Covid could be to blame. Many are quick to remind people on social media that the virus is still circulating in the US, albeit at much lower levels than in previous years.

A new strain, JN.1, appeared on the radar of public health experts earlier this year and was responsible for an estimated 83 to 88 percent of all circulating variants by the end of January.

Dr. Zachary Rubin, an immunologist with expertise in allergies and asthma, said: ‘It’s probably not much of a mystery because people haven’t been talking about it lately, but Covid-19 is still circulating at high levels in the United States.

‘We see high concentrations in the wastewater when people go to the toilet. You shed that virus and we can take a sample of that to see what’s going on in the general population, even if people don’t test for it.”

He added that many people use home diagnostic tests, which can produce false negative results. It is best to test multiple times over 24 to 48 hours or have a PCR test done in a doctor’s office.

“So this is still a phenomenon that not only makes people sick, but makes people seriously ill and has persistent symptoms.”

At the same time, Covid test positivity rates are the lowest they have been in weeks. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about eight percent of Covid tests have come back positive in the past week, up from 9.7 percent two weeks ago and 10.2 percent three weeks ago.

The explosion of testimonies about the so-called mystery virus in question is directly linked to pandemic-related fears and the spread of dubious health claims, according to Callum Hood, head of research at the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

He said: ‘Social media has failed to tackle repeated waves of health misinformation during the Covid pandemic, and it has had a lasting effect on creating distrust of real medical experts and breeding a new generation of online quacks.’