But why should we avoid taking medication at the first signs of a fever?
According to recent research from the University of Alberta, allowing a mild fever to run its course might be more beneficial than immediately resorting to medication.
The study’s lead author, immunologist Daniel Barreda, and his team discovered that untreated moderate fevers aided in the rapid elimination of infections in fish while also managing inflammation and restoring damaged tissue.
“We let nature do what nature does,” adds lead author Daniel Barreda, “and in this case it was very much a positive thing.”
Barreda is a joint professor in the faculties of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences and Science at the University of Alberta.
According to Barreda, moderate fever is a self-resolving condition, which implies that the body can generate and terminate it without requiring any medication. Although research is yet to confirm the health benefits of natural fever in humans, the shared mechanisms governing and maintaining fever in animals suggest that comparable benefits are likely to occur in humans.
He suggests that we avoid using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as over-the-counter fever medications as a first response to mild fever.
“NSAIDS take away the discomfort felt with fever, but you’re also likely giving away some of the benefits of this natural response.”
Barreda notes that the study sheds light on the mechanisms that contribute to the advantages of moderate fever, which have been conserved across the animal kingdom for 550 million years. He further points out that every animal examined has exhibited this biological response to infection.
Certain species, such as fish, reptiles, and insects, are willing to take the risk of predation and reduce their reproductive success in order to reach temperatures in their environments that induce natural fever.
“So the big question is, if animals will go to these great lengths, why do we take medication at the first signs of a fever?”
In the study, fish were infected with bacteria, and their behavior was monitored and analyzed using machine learning. The external symptoms observed in these fish were comparable to those seen in humans with fever, such as fatigue, malaise, and immobility. The study then correlated these symptoms with significant immune mechanisms inside the fish.
According to Barreda, the study revealed that natural fever provides “an integrative response that not only activates defenses against infection, but also helps control it.”
The researchers observed that fever aided in the clearance of infection from the fish in around seven days, which was half the duration taken by those animals who were not allowed to exhibit fever.
In addition, fever played a role in terminating inflammation and restoring damaged tissues.
Barreda draws a comparison, stating that this process is similar to turning off a car after driving, rather than leaving it running, as it saves energy and prevents further damage.
Furthermore, Barreda proposes that these discoveries could assist veterinarians and livestock producers in managing illnesses in the animals they handle.
“We can take advantage of this natural fever response and the tools we have generated to identify animals that are sick or that may need a vaccination booster. Focusing on a subset of the population saves time and is less costly.”
Barreda’s ultimate goal is for the research to aid in achieving a healthy equilibrium between treating fever and reaping its benefits.
“In the long term, our goal is to determine how to best take advantage of our medical advances while continuing to harness the benefits from natural mechanisms of immunity.”
The findings were reported in the journal eLife.
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