Fever-reducing medications, which are often taken by people with flu, can result in the infection of tens of thousands of additional people each flu season. That is one of the findings of new research, as reported by Discovery News.
Fever, though unpleasant, can actually be beneficial. The condition can lower the amounts of virus in a sick person's body, because viruses replicate less efficiently in higher temperatures. Fever can also help immune responses work better.
Using mathematical models to assess the effects of widespread use of medications that suppress fever, researchers found that in a typical flu season, fever-reducing drugs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen may lead to tens of thousands of additional influenza cases, as well as more than a thousand deaths attributable to influenza, across North America.
"When they have flu, people often take medication that reduces their fever. No one likes to feel miserable, but it turns out that our comfort might be at the cost of infecting others," said study researcher David Earn, a professor of mathematics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
"Because fever can actually help lower the amount of virus in a sick person's body and reduce the chance of transmitting disease to others, taking drugs that reduce fever can increase transmission," Earn said. "We've discovered that this increase has significant effects when we scale up to the level of the whole population."
"People are often advised to take fever-reducing drugs, and medical texts state that doing so is harmless," said Paul Andrews, researcher at the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behavior at McMaster. "This view needs to change."
The researchers said future experiments are needed to determine the precise increase in virus levels in the body associated with fever reduction. Studies are also needed to estimate the increase in disease spread from sick people who took fever-reducing drugs that made them feel better, allowing them to go to school or work when they should have stayed home.