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.
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.