Is TikTok’s 'mystery virus' a real threat or social media misinformation fad?

One health expert cautions that increased in-person socialising may facilitate more widespread infections

By Web Desk
March 04, 2024
This combination of images shows a sick woman blowing her nose into a tissue and the TikTok logo displayed on a smartphone. — Pixabay, Reuters/File

Young TikTok users have been posting videos about experiencing a "mystery disease" with COVID-like symptoms including difficulty breathing, fatigue and fever.

However, they seem confused as they claim that their tests for potential viruses including COVID-19, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), have come back negative, The Hill reported.


Health experts say that the symptoms point to one post-pandemic condition: anxiety about getting sick.

"The symptoms that are being described are pretty consistent with, you know, a lot of viruses that are not 'mystery viruses,' that are things that are out there circulating all year. The common cold being one of them," Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told The Hill.

A woman shares her experience with the "mystery virus". — TikTok/jermaine5821

Public health officials said there are currently no indications of a new, unknown virus tearing through the United States.

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, predicts a rise in other respiratory infections alongside COVID-19 and the flu with the season.

He revealed that the 2023-24 cold and flu season follows years of isolation due to the pandemic, cautioning that increased in-person socialising may facilitate more widespread infections.

"This generation tends to tell you everything that's going on in their lives on social media. In my view, they’re sharing way too much, but that’s them," he said.

"They like to hypothesise about what’s going on. And to some degree, it is self-generating both hysteria and false information. Because, you know, you're now hearing about things from four or five different people — many of whom you don't know."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) weekly surveillance report revealed that COVID-19 cases have declined since January and flu cases have seen a nearly 15% drop in positive tests.

"Social media failed to tackle repeated waves of health misinformation during the COVID pandemic, and it’s had a lasting effect in creating distrust of real medical experts while breeding a new generation of online quacks," Callum Hood, head of research at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said in a statement.

"Platforms need to step up and tackle harmful health misinformation instead of profiting from it."