Debunking ‘mystery illness’ making its round on TikTok

Illnesses this time of year are nothing to sneeze at, but don’t get your medical advice from social media users

It’s still cold and flu season, so catching something is bound to happen this time of year. Although some rushed to the store to stock up on medicine, others took to TikTok for medical advice.

Videos of a “mystery illness” skyrocketed on the platform in February with the hashtags #virus and #sick gaining more than a million views.

“When I say everybody, I’m including myself too. I just had this so-called virus last week. I was feeling very very lightheaded. I felt like I had to vomit. I felt like I was going to pass out. All of these symptoms are not adding up to me,” said TikTok user @thatgirlkanesha — whose video has more than 1.7 million likes, 53,000 comments and 124,000 shares.

In the comment section, users complained about their nose and throat hurting for days, while others mentioned being dizzy, weak, tired and experiencing body aches. Although TikTokers dub the symptoms as being from a “mystery illness,” experts said there’s no real mystery to it, and it can be explained.

“The symptoms people in the videos describe, such as coughing, fever, fatigue, and generalized muscle pain, are common to many viral illnesses, including colds, COVID-19, and the influenza virus,” board-certified family physician Dr. Sarah Bonza told Healthline.

Along with COVID, the respiratory syncytial virus has made its rounds with symptoms similar to the flu and the common cold.

“This does not mean it is a new virus. It is simply a new version of the old virus,” Bonza said. “These changes may potentially present with new, previously unknown, symptoms and may explain what individuals are currently describing as a mystery virus.”

According to a survey from CharityRx — a discount pharmacy service — one-third of GenZers consult TikTok for health advice, and 44% turn to YouTube before turning to their doctor.

TikTok is a great source for entertainment, connecting with friends, finding new places to eat and places to travel, but experts said they worry about the app becoming a place of misinformation.

“Misinformation is spreading at an alarming speed and scale, raising questions about the effect on public health and whether these platforms are equipped to address this issue,” Zara Nwosu, a wellness enthusiast at Medriva told Fox59.

If you’re experiencing symptoms or have questions, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor before self-diagnosing.