Nov. 3, 2011 at 10:45 AM ET
Got a cold or the flu and feeling feverish? You may not want to be so quick to reach for a pill to get rid of it, a new study suggests.
Scientists have found more evidence that allowing your fever to burn out may actually help certain types of immune cells to work more efficiently. They say that a type of lymphocyte called CD8+Cytotoxic T-cell is capable of destroying virus-infected and tumor cells and low-grade fevers enhance them.
Researchers from the Department of Immunology at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N. Y. injected two groups of mice with an antigen and watched the T-cells activate. They raised the body temperature two degrees centigrade in half the mice, and the other half maintained a normal body temperature.
The warmed mice showed a greater number of the CD8 T-cells that were capable of destroying infected cells. Their findings were in the November 2011 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
Scientists have long known that a fever is the body’s protective response to fight off bacteria and viruses. If you can stand the discomfort until your fever reaches 102, Dr. Amesh A. Adalja says it’s fine to let the fever go away on its own – but not always.
“Once the body temperature reaches certain levels, it becomes dangerous because it can be toxic to brain cells, and can also precipitate seizures as well as increase your heart rate and basal metabolic rate, causing people to more likely become dehydrated,” says Adalja, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
It's probably best not to take the chance with a feverish child, or with an adult if the fever spikes higher than 102 degrees. A high fever in some children can result in seizures, he says. Adalja also warns it’s also not worth the risk to your own health if you have heart disease, have suffered a stroke or endure other medical complications.
“This is not a blanket recommendation,” he says. “Secondary consequences to the fever can cause other conditions in the patient to occur or worsen. If someone has a persistent fever of 104, it’s a sign of infection, and it’s not just some viral thing you are going to get over.”