A new study led by the University of Alberta in Canada has found that, during an infection, it may be better to let a mild fever run its course instead of automatically reaching for medication. Although the research was conducted on fish, the experts suggest that such an approach to illness might prove beneficial for humans too.
In a laboratory setting, the scientists infected fish with bacteria and tracked and evaluated their behavior using machine learning algorithms. The investigation revealed that their outward symptoms – which were then matched to important immune mechanisms inside the animals – were strikingly similar to those of humans during infections, including immobility, malaise, and fatigue.
Most importantly, moderate fever appeared to help to clear the fish of infection in about a week, which was half the time it took for those not allowed to exert fever. In addition, untreated moderate fever played a crucial role in controlling inflammation and repairing damaged tissue.
“We let nature do what nature does, and in this case it was very much a positive thing,” said study senior author Daniel Barreda, an immunologist at Alberta, suggesting that we should resist reaching for fever medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs at the first signs of developing a mild fever. “They take away the discomfort felt with fever, but you’re also likely giving away some of the benefits of this natural response.”
While the health advantages of natural fever in humans are not yet confirmed, since the mechanisms driving and sustaining fever have been evolutionarily conserved across the animal kingdom for nearly 550 million years, it is reasonable to expect similar benefits in the case of humans too.
“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,” Barreda concluded.
The study is published in the journal eLife.
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