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Can You Get Two Colds at Once?

It sure feels like it.

When you’ve got kids in daycare or preschool, it can seem like they’re constantly coming down with a new cold no matter the season—and passing it on to you. It’s definitely not just you; colds are the most common infectious disease in the United States, and they’re especially contagious in the first two to four days. They can even keep spreading for up to a couple of weeks after someone starts feeling sick (which explains why it seems like just as one person feels better, someone else in your family gets sick). With all those germs flying back and forth, it’s enough to make you wonder if it’s possible for one of you to catch a second cold on top of the one you already have. 

The bad news: It sure is possible.

In fact, 30 percent of children with respiratory infections have been found to have two or more respiratory viruses in their systems, according to a systematic review of research. And in one study of children in daycare centers, 46 percent of kids attending were found to have multiple viruses. 

Interestingly, though, the first review found that having more than one viral infection did not make symptoms worse. And the daycare attendees with multiple viruses actually had fewer instances of fever than kids with just one virus, although their symptoms did tend to last longer. Most studies of adults with multiple infections take place in hospital settings, but one systematic review of adult studies found no differences in severity of symptoms between people with one or more infections.  

Still, the symptoms of one cold at a time are bad enough, especially when you’re pretty much the CEO of your household. If you suspect you’re being tag-teamed by cold germs, it’s extra important to take care of yourself, and to take steps to prevent spreading your cold to your partner or little ones. You can’t treat the virus that caused your cold (or colds), but you can do things to feel better, like get plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids. If you’re feeling achy, an OTC pain reliever like Advil can help relieve those symptoms. But stop use and ask a doctor if you have a fever that lasts more than three days, or if pain gets worse or lasts more than 10 days.

Want to make sure the rest of the family doesn’t get sick? Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (here’s how to make that fun for kids), encourage everyone to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth, and make sure the sick person avoids close contact with others. If you’re sick, there is a (small) silver lining: This is a great time to demonstrate healthy behaviors to your child, like always sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, and completely covering your mouth and nose.

When it comes to colds, the numbers aren’t in your favor: Adults can expect to suffer through two to three colds per year, while kids can get about eight; it’s the main reason kids visit the doctor and miss school. And while a cold isn’t the end of the world, trading germs back and forth within your family can make the symptoms seem to last foreeeever. Do what you can to prevent them, and treat them seriously when they get the best of you—and if the symptoms don’t go away on their own after 10 days or get severe, head to your doc to get some help.

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