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Listener Question: Is it Possible to Have Different Symptoms From the Same Bug?

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Listener Question: Is it Possible to Have Different Symptoms From the Same Bug?

Feb 01, 2024

This week’s listener question is about colds and flus and whether or not two people can have different symptoms with the same disease. You had a headache and stuffy nose, but your loved one has a fever and upset stomach. Is it from the same bug? Tom Miller, MD, has the answers about individual symptoms and answers whether or not you were really the one who got your loved one sick.

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    Interviewer: To answer the listener question today, Dr. Tom Miller. All right. Here's the question: Is it possible to have different symptoms from the same bug?

    So here's a scenario. I come down with something. I don't know if it's a cold or what. But I'm sneezy, runny nose, that sort of thing. A couple of weeks later, my wife got it except she's got a fever, slight fever, and sore throat which I didn't have. My contention is that's a completely different bug because it's different symptoms.

    Yes, It's Possible to Have Different Symptoms from the Same Virus

    Dr. Miller: It might not be. It depends on what's circulating in the community. So first of all, to answer your question about, could you have different symptoms than your wife? Yeah, the answer is yes. Sometimes people will feel... with the same virus they'll have real achy feeling. Others won't get that. Others will have some gastrointestinal effects, maybe a little bit of diarrhea, and some nausea.

    Interviewer: Does that tend to be that person's way of manifesting any sort of bug then, generally? Like, if somebody tends to get a sore throat when they get a cold, they're always going to, kind of, tend to get it. And if I tend not to, I'm going to tend not to.

    Dr. Miller: No. I don't think there's any evidence to state that. I mean, it's tough to know that. But basically, people can come up with variations on the theme, but caused by the same virus or same bug, right?

    But I think that the question you're asking is, could she have gotten it from you? I would say that if you actually picked it up two weeks ago and you were better in about four or five days, or starting to get better, that she would pick it up a week later. It's possible but probably less likely. We usually will see you within a week or so if a family member comes down with the same thing that the index case or the patient.

    Interviewer: So it happens pretty quickly?

    Dr. Miller: It happens pretty quickly.

    Interviewer: Okay.

    Washing Your Hands is the Best Defense During Cold and Flu Season

    Dr. Miller: And I think the bigger thing is that these viruses tend to circulate in the community. So you could pick it up from somebody at work. You could pick it up in the grocery store. So what's your best defense? Wash your hands. Wash your hands during the cold and flu season especially if you're around someone who has a cold in that environment. Just make sure you wash your hands frequently.

    Interviewer: All right.

    Dr. Miller: So it's a great defense.


    updated: February 1, 2024
    originally published: May 2, 2017