It’s bad enough to deal with a cold, but to deal with going through two colds at the same time – is that even possible?
According to experts, yes, it is possible, and it’s a phenomenon known as coinfection.
Coinfection can happen with any virus or bacterial infections, or a combination of the two types (not just with colds), Dr. Isaac Bogoch, staff physician of internal medicine and infectious diseases at the University Health Network in Toronto, explains.
“When we say someone has a cold we’re talking about a virus and usually we’re talking about an upper respiratory tract virus,” he says. “There’s many different types of these circulating, and when we think about these types, there’s different strains of each type that are circulating. So there’s a wad of these circulating simultaneously. So yes, certainly people can get more than one cold at a time.”
For the common cold specifically, there are over 100 viruses that can be responsible for kickstarting those icky symptoms in people. But while the possibility of suffering from two colds at once, in particular, is there, Bogoch says that possibility is low.
But when it does occur, the way the body handles it is by recognizing the viruses as two distinct viruses and mounting an immune response against each of the viruses, Dr. Stephen Wetmore, chief of the department of family medicine at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, says.
Because of this, Wetmore says anyone going through two colds wouldn’t feel any worse than as if they were going through just one cold, he adds.
It may, however, mean that whatever symptoms the person feels may last longer than typical, but that won’t be everyone’s experience, Bogoch says. Typically, he says, a cold can last between two and three days.
The more common scenario one would experience, Bogoch explains, would, in fact, be picking up another illness right after recovering from another.
This happens because of the state our immune system finds itself in after going through an illness, Wetmore says. Our immune system, he explains, is essentially weakened and therefore slightly more vulnerable to picking up other viruses, bacteria or other infectious agents.
“There are times when a person’s immune system is stressed – maybe you’ve already gone through one infection or on the tail end of an infection and your immune system is susceptible to another virus that comes along,” Wetmore says. “We do know that bacteria can cause infections in a person that’s already been infected by a virus. For example, a person can get a cold caused by a virus, and while the immune system is fighting that off, a bacteria comes along and secondarily infects that person’s immune system that is under that stress.”
But when it does come to fighting off two colds, the remedy isn’t any different than what it would be then if you were just fighting off one cold, Bogoch says.
That means plenty of rest, keeping hydrated and taking acetaminophen for symptomatic relief.