Last night I suddenly came down with a bad fever. When I called my mom (a pharmacist) today, she told me in no uncertain terms to take Ibuprofen. But that might be bad advice. Why?
Over a decade ago, Randolph Nesse and George Williams published an article in Science interpreting disease in an evolutionary context. It’s a fun and fascinating read about not just the arms race between ourselves and pathogens that attack us, but the value of some symptoms we abhor, like fevers and morning sickness. A rise in body temperature, they argue, can quickly fry microorganisms and even deactivate viruses living inside you. As the famous biologist Theodosius Dobzhanksy once wrote, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
Two years before that (1996), Klugor and colleagues had reviewed several studies and also concluded that fever might be beneficial to the host (me) in defeating its pathogens (this #@&! virus). Research in this area continues, with Jane Carey’s literature review just last year on whether treating fevers in hospitals actually helped the patients. She found the results were inconclusive, but that it could actually prolong a patient’s stay.
I should point out that high fevers can be bad for the host! You can denature your own proteins. That’s bad. So if the fever is getting really high, it is probably a good idea to treat it. Was mine high enough to worry? I don’t know; I didn’t take my temperature. Not very scientific, I know. But I’m hoping that by letting the fever run its course and sleeping it off, I have decreased the time that I will be sick.