Does getting a fever mean you’ll recover from a cold faster?

·2-min read
Woman having symptoms of Covid-19 lies covered in blanket in isolation with handerchiefs and pills next to her.
Is reaching for the paracetamol a bad idea? Perhaps you should let your fever run its course. (Getty)

A mild fever might actually help you get over an infection such as a cold faster, new research has suggested.

Rather than reaching for medicines such as paracetamol, it might actually be better to let the fever run its course – as it could shorten the length of time you are ill.

The research, which focused on fish, found that untreated moderate fever helped fish clear their bodies of infection rapidly, controlled inflammation and repaired damaged tissue.

The researchers say that the same is likely true in humans, due to our similar systems.

Fish with fever got better twice as fast as fish without, the researchers say.

Your body can induce moderate fever and shut it down naturally by itself and almost all animals do this, the researchers say.

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The health advantages of natural fever to humans still have to be confirmed through research, but the researchers say because the mechanisms driving and sustaining fever are shared among animals, it is reasonable to expect similar benefits are going to happen in humans.

Daniel Barreda, lead author on the study and a joint professor in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences and the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta, said: "We let nature do what nature does, and in this case it was very much a positive thing.

That suggests we should resist reaching for over-the-counter fever medications, also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, at the first signs of a mild temperature, he says.

"They take away the discomfort felt with fever, but you're also likely giving away some of the benefits of this natural response."

The study helps shed light on the mechanisms that contribute to the benefits of moderate fever, which Barreda notes has been evolutionarily conserved across the animal kingdom for 550 million years.

Barreda said: "Every animal examined has this biological response to infection."

For the study, fish were given a bacterial infection and their behaviour was then tracked and evaluated using machine learning.

Outward symptoms were similar to those seen in humans with fever, including immobility, fatigue and malaise. These were then matched to important immune mechanisms inside the animals.

The research showed that natural fever offers a response that not only activates defences against infection, but also helps control it.

The researchers found that fever helped to clear the fish of infection in about seven days — half the time it took for those animals not allowed to exert fever.

Fever also helped to shut down inflammation and repair injured tissue.

"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," said Barreda.

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