No, I am not talking about the type of fever that the song talks about … I am talking about the fever that makes you feel ill. Maybe less interesting, but it is very important to understand what it means.
New Year has arrived and with it come colds and the flu – the usual not-at-all enjoyable health problems that the cold weather brings.
During the winter months, influenza may infect up to 20% of the population, depending on which viruses are circulating, causing substantial mortality. People at increased risk of severe disease from infection include older people, pregnant women, young children, immunocompromised people and people with chronic underlying medical conditions.
Fever is a part of the picture. A fever is a temporary increase in the body temperature, often due to an illness. Having a fever is a sign that something out of the ordinary is going on in your body.
Fever is when a human’s body temperature goes above the normal range of 36°–37° Centigrade (98°–100° Fahrenheit). It is a common medical sign.
A part of the brain called the hypothalamus controls body temperature, which usually varies throughout the day; in response to an infection, illness or some other cause, the hypothalamus may reset the body to a higher temperature as a form of defence.
Fevers are common but can be unpleasant
Mild fever is generally not considered dangerous, but hyperthermia can be dangerous. People’s normal body temperatures may vary and are affected by factors such as eating, exercise, sleeping and what time of the day it is. Our body temperature is usually at its highest at around 6pm and at its lowest at about 3am.
Diagnosing a fever is straightforward; the patient’s temperature is taken and if the reading is high, they have a fever. It is important to take the person’s temperature when at rest because physical activity can warm us up.
Fever is a sign rather than a disease and can be caused by a number of factors, but most times by bacterial or viral infections. It should never be forgotten that antibiotics have no effect against viruses, they do not treat viral infections, but there are a few antiviral drugs used to treat certain viral infections. However, the best treatment for most minor illnesses caused by viruses is often rest and plenty of fluids.
Doctors say that as long as the fever is mild, there is no need to bring it down as, if the fever is not severe, it is probably helping to neutralise the bacteria or virus that is causing the infection.
Medications to bring down a fever are called antipyretics. If the fever is causing undue discomfort, an antipyretic may be recommended. The most common treatments for fever include over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
When a fever reaches or exceeds 38° Centigrade (100.4° Fahrenheit), it is no longer mild and should be carefully monitored.
A person with a fever caused by an infection should have as little contact as possible with other people, to prevent the infection from spreading.
Sometimes there is what is called a “fever of unknown origin”, in cases when the cause cannot be easily found and it could be an unusual, not obvious condition needing further medical support and investigation.
Why fever can be your friend in times of illness
Fever is more than just a symptom of illness or infection, claim researchers. They found that elevated body temperature sets in motion a series of mechanisms that regulate our immune system.
Thus, fevers are not always a bad sign; you may even have heard that mild fevers are a good indication that your immune system is doing its job. But fevers are more than just a byproduct of our immune response.
In fact, an elevated body temperature triggers cellular mechanisms that ensure that the immune system takes appropriate action against the offending virus or bacteria, so say researchers from two academic institutions in the United Kingdom, the University of Warwick in Coventry and the University of Manchester.
Senior researchers Prof. David Rand and Prof. Mike White led teams of mathematicians and biologists to understand what happens at a cellular level when fever takes hold.
Their findings reveal that higher body temperatures drive the activity of certain proteins that, in turn, switch genes responsible for the body’s immune response on and off, as required.
“We have known for some time that influenza and cold epidemics tend to be worse in the winter when temperatures are cooler. Also, mice living at higher temperatures suffer less from inflammation and cancer. These changes may now be explained by altered immune responses at different temperatures.”
Old time country wisdom has always said to “keep warm and keep drinking” lots of liquids to help prevent flu and colds. The importance of keeping warm is now scientifically proved to be more relevant than just a comfort.
Cold air really affects our first line of defence!
New Year wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve