Fever and Antipyretics
All of us have experienced fever every now and then. But what causes fever? Fever is a condition wherein the body temperature becomes greater than greater than 101.8 F (38.8 C) when taken rectally, more than 100 F (37.8 C) when taken orally, or more than 99 F (37.2 C) when taken through the armpit. This symptom is a response of the body to infections or inflammations that has affected it; it may also be due to cancers, dehydration, thyroid diseases, injuries and other illnesses. Fever is actually a protective mechanism of the body; however a temperature of more than 106 F can result to dangerous outcomes such as coma, seizures, dehydration and other problems. Thus, we should control fever in any way we can.
Along with the physical measures of controlling body temperature such as sponge baths and cool blankets, the patient with fever should be antipyretics or fever-reducing medications. Fever-reducing medications are of three types: salicylates which include aspirin, acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen, ibuprofen or ketoprofen. Their abilities are similar in reducing fever and pain, as well as their onset of action.
Antipyretics are often used in controlling fever associated with influenza or flu. Flu is caused by a contagious virus known as the influenza virus, which infects the nasopharyngeal tract and the lungs. One of its signs and symptoms is fever, along with a runny nose, cough, sore throat, body malaise, body aches and pains, and nausea. Flu spreads because due to droplets which are spread into the air when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs. Droplets also settle down the mouths and the noses of unsuspecting people. Alternatively, a person can get infected by touching a surface or an object where flu viruses are present. The infective stage begins one day after symptoms surface out and ends up to 5 to 7 days of illness. In children and in persons with weakened resistance, the illness course may be longer. Also, in immunocompromised patients, there may be complications, which may include pneumonia, sinusitis, dehydration, ear infections, asthma, heart diseases or even diabetes.
Fever and Flu
A recent study showed that antipyretics in influenza may actually bring more harm than good. This study by researchers from McMaster University has found out that the use of fever-reducing medications can actually help spread flu in various locations. Those who take antipyretics when they have flu were able to reduce their fever but could also increase their chances of infecting others. The drugs implicated are aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
The researchers theorized that fever may actually have a protective effect by lowering the amount of virus in the body and reducing the chances of an infected person to infect others. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The experts gathered information from various sources such as clinical trials on human subjects and on animal studies. A mathematical model was then used to solve for the increase in the amount of virus shed off by a person taking antipyretics, the overall number of cases on one year and the overall number of cases when a new strain infected a population. The results suggested that suppression of fever can actually increase the number of infected cases by about 5 % yearly, a number which corresponds to about more than 1,000 additional influenza-related deaths in North America.
This is why experts are suggesting not resorting to fever-reducing medications when having a bout of cold or flu. More studies are actually needed to find out what really are the effects of antipyretic medications on persons who have influenza and on other infectious diseases. To know more about flu, you can read other articles on this site.