The use of anti-fever drugs such as aspirin and acetaminophen may prolong influenza A and possibly other viral infections, according to researchers at the University of Maryland schools of medicine and pharmacy.
In a series of vaccine studies conducted between 1978 and 1987 at the University's Center for Vaccine Development:
- 54 volunteers were injected with Influenza A
- 45 with S. sonnei
- 21 with R. rickettsii
During these studies, some of the subjects were given aspirin or acetaminophen (paracetamol) for relief of symptoms such as fever.
The current study compared the duration of illness in those who received the medication with those who did not and found that flu sufferers who took one of the anti-fever medications were sick an average of 3.5 days longer than people who did not take either of the drugs.
On average, flu symptoms lasted 5.3 days in participants who did not take aspirin or acetaminophen, compared with 8.8 days in people who took the anti-fever drugs.
"The analysis suggests that anti-fever therapy prolonged illness in subjects infected with Influenza A, but not shigellosis or Rocky Mountain spotted fever," says Philip A. Mackowiak, MD, one of the study's principal investigators and chief of the Medical Care Clinical Center, V.A. Maryland Health Care System and professor at the School of Medicine.
"Our research suggests that fever may have different roles in the resolution of bacterial and viral infections," says Karen I. Plaisance, PharmD, associate professor at the School of Pharmacy, the study's other lead investigator.
In comments to Reuters Health, Dr. Plaisance noted that similar findings have been reported in studies of chickenpox.
She also noted that the findings are based on studies conducted in the past, but that they hope to conduct studies in the future in which people with flu symptoms are randomly assigned to receive anti-fever medication or an inactive placebo.
"The good news is that anti-fever drugs make people feel better when they have infections. The bad news is that they may cause the illness to linger longer," says Dr. Mackowiak, adding that people "should be aware that anti-fever drugs have a modest cost associated with relief and that cost is that they may be sick longer."
Pharmacotherapy, December 2000; 20: 1417-1422
It is amazing to me that so little research has been done into the most basic of all physiological responses to infect - the fever.
It is so obvious to anyone not enamored of the pharmaceutical paradigm that this is one of the body's basic defense mechanisms and should not usually be suppressed. Fever is not an illness to be gotten ridden of by popping a pill. It is a symptom of infection, but not a useless one.
This is a very important topic and I hope to have more articles on this topic next week. Also, be sure to read "Fever in Children - A Blessing in Disguise" in this week's newsletter.