Taking popular fever-reducing drugs (such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen) for the flu may increase the spread of the virus. A new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B used human and animal data to create mathematical models. The investigators found that lowering a fever brought on by influenza facilitates viral replication and transmission. They calculate that treating fevers increases the cases of flu in North America by approximately five percent each year. That could result in an extra thousand deaths annually from influenza.

Many people assume that lowering a fever makes the flu less infectious, but the opposite seems to be the case. In addition, people with fever tend to stay home in bed, while those who don’t feel quite as bad may make an effort to get to work, where they will be in contact with other people. From a public health perspective, routine use of aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen might not be the best strategy for controlling influenza.

[Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Jan 22,  2014]

There are ways to help a sick child or even an adult feel a little better without giving fever-suppressing medicines. We discussed this topic in our hour-long conversation with Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, author of Healthy at Home: Get Well and Stay Well without Prescriptions, from National Geographic.

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  1. paulbyr

    I seldom have a fever but when I have had a fever, I have chills and cover up with my electric blanket. When I wake up, and the chills are gone, I feel much better and drink a lot of cool water.
    I grew up knowing that the body raised it’s temperature to combat the enemy so I never wanted to reduce fever. I guess if I got above 101, my mother gave me aspirin (this was long, long ago).

  2. AMJ, MD

    This is not at all surprising. Samuel Katz, MD, recently chair of the Duke University Department of Pediatrics, did a study on treatment of fever in measles and other viral infections during his fellowship at Harvard in the 1960s or 70s. He found that lowering high temperatures reduced the body’s production of interferon and other nonspecific “antiviral” compounds and thus extended the duration of infection and, as I recall, the severity thereof. This would almost certainly be associated with prolonging infectivity.

  3. Noah V.

    My first thought upon reading he headline was that reducing the fever would tempt people to get out and about, spreading their still virulent virii.
    Then I thought about how fever is the raising of our body temperatures which helps to kill the virus (or/and bacteria) that is causing the illness. We don’t want our temperature to get too high, but a raised temp won’t hurt us as much as it does those tiny nasties. So lowering the fever would tend to allow ongoing procreation of the little beings that are causing the illness, prolonging it and counteracting our own body’s response.
    And that fever helps to keep you in bed, minimizing contact with the un-diseased and providing rest so your body can focus on getting well.
    This study makes common sense to me. I’m sure it holds for nearly all fever producing illnesses.

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