What is a viral fever?

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EVERYONE IS FRIGHTENED BY THE CORONAVIRUS THESE DAYS. BUT IT IS NOT THE ONLY CAUSE OF VIRAL FEVER, RIGHT? WHAT IS A VIRAL FEVER ANYWAY?

Nope, the coronavirus is far from being the only cause of viral fever.

A viral fever simply means any fever that is caused by an underlying viral infection.

WILL MY FOREHEAD BE HOT WHEN I HAVE A FEVER? HOW CAN I DETERMINE IF I HAVE A FEVER?

Your normal body temperature is 37 deg C. If you have a temperature that is one degree or more above this, you have a fever.

If your temperature is 37.5 deg C, this is considered a mild fever.

It is difficult to determine that you have a fever by simply putting the back of your hand on your forehead.

You may "feel hot" or suspect that you have a fever because you don't feel well.

The only way to determine if you have a fever is to take your body temperature with a thermometer.

You can purchase one from any pharmacy to keep in your home for times when you need to measure your temperature.

There are plenty of different kinds of thermometers on the market.

There's one that you can put under your tongue. There is another specially for children, which is a strip that can be simply placed on their forehead.

There is yet another one that records your anal temperature.

This thermometer is usually used in hospitals by experienced nurses who won't damage your anus and is commonly used for babies.

WHY DOES MY BODY HAVE A FEVER WHEN I HAVE A VIRAL INFECTION?

Your body can have a fever not only because of a viral infection, but also because of a bacterial infection or any other kind of infection.

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Your body can also mount a fever if you have some sort of immune response going on that is caused by something other than an infection.

Fevers are caused by a certain chemical called a pyrogen (pyro is the Greek word for fire).

Pyrogens are produced by white blood cells in your bloodstream.

When your body is assailed by an infection or a disease that triggers a severe immune response, your white blood cells release these pyrogens.

These pyrogens flow to the hypothalamus in your brain, which is in charge of regulating your body temperature.

These pyrogens bind to certain receptors on your hypothalamus, which results in a rise in your body temperature.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A FEVER?

The main purpose of a fever, according to scientists, is to raise your body's temperature enough to kill off certain viruses and bacteria that cannot take warmth.

OH? I HAVE BEEN TAKING ACETAMINOPHEN TO LOWER MY FEVER. SHOULD I BE TAKING IT THEN? WHAT IF MY BODY CANNOT FIGHT THE VIRUS OFF?

This is a debate that has raged on for years.

The two schools of thought are:

"Suppress it" philosophy

  • A fever should be lowered because its metabolic costs (the damage it causes your body) outweigh the good it has in perhaps eliminating the bacteria or virus.

"Let it ride" philosophy

  • A fever is good, so we should let its run its course.

There are clinical trials favouring either side of the argument.

But most doctors today still treat the fever as a symptom because most patients do not like to have a fever.

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IS A LOW GRADE FEVER MORE DANGEROUS, OR A HIGH GRADE FEVER?

That depends on the infecting microorganism.

Some viruses cause low grade fever, like the common cold or flu. Some viruses cause high grade fever, like dengue.

Bacteria generally cause a higher grade fever than most viruses because they stimulate more pyrogens to be produced.

The definition of danger depends on the patient.

If you are old and infirm, you are at higher risk of dying from a flu than someone who is young and healthy.

IS FEVER THE ONLY SYMPTOM OF A VIRAL FEVER?

No, you can also get chills, sweating, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and a loss of appetite.

These symptoms usually last a few days.

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IS A VIRAL FEVER TREATABLE?

Most treatment provides relief for your symptoms.

There is acetaminophen or aspirin for your fever and bed rest for your fatigue and muscle aches.

You are encouraged to drink a lot of water and keep yourself hydrated, especially if you sweat a lot.

Some doctors may prescribe an antiviral drug like oseltamivir, but most do not.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. The author and the publication disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.