It may be better to let a mild fever run its course rather than reaching for medicines, suggests a new animal study which found that slight temperature could help clear infections faster.
The study, published in the journal Immunology and Inflammation, shows that a mild fever helped fish clear their bodies of infection rapidly, controlled inflammation and repaired tissue damage.
“We let nature do what nature does, and in this case it was very much a positive thing,” said immunologist Daniel Barreda, lead author of the study, from the University of Alberta in Canada.
“Moderate fever is self-resolving, meaning that the body can both induce it and shut it down naturally without medication,” Barreda explained.
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The researchers noted that health advantages of natural fever to humans still have to be confirmed through research, “but because the mechanisms driving and sustaining fever are shared among animals, it is reasonable to expect similar benefits are going to happen in humans.” The study suggests that people should resist reaching for over-the-counter fever medications, also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), at the first signs of a mild temperature.
“NSAIDS take away the discomfort felt with fever, but you are also likely giving away some of the benefits of this natural response,” Barreda said.
The study helps shed light on the mechanisms that contribute to the benefits of moderate fever, which “has been evolutionarily conserved across the animal kingdom for 550 million years,” the researcher noted.
For the study, fish were given a bacterial infection and their behaviour was then tracked and evaluated using machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence (AI).
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 “an integrative response that not only activates defences against infection, but also helps control it,” Barreda said.
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 tissues that had been injured, they added.