What to Do — And Not to Do — When You Have a Viral Fever

Change of season, especially the retreating monsoons, is prime time for viral fevers. To most people, viral fever spells influenza, or simply ’flu. There are several kinds of viral fever which can be confused with bacterial fevers since their symptoms tend to be similar. Few people realize that ailments like AIDS begin with a viral fever caused by HIV. Ailments like Spanish flu, encephalitis, chickenpox, hepatitis B, measles, dengue, rubella, bird flu, chikungunya, meningitis, smallpox, and swine flu (H1N1) are clubbed under viral sickness. The vital aspect of any viral sickness is that the virus itself is not treatable as yet. However, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic to prevent secondary infections.

The Difference Between a Viral and Bacterial Fever

The first point to note is that while most viruses are bad for your health; most bacteria are harmless. In fact, you need the good bacteria in your guts to ensure digestive health, even fight cancerous cells, and destroy microbes. A bare one percent of bacteria cause illness and don’t need a host to survive. However, viruses require a host as they subsist on cells of living organisms. Bacterial infections need to be treated with antibiotics. Certain illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhea, and meningitis might be caused by either, and only a laboratory test would establish whether it has been caused by a bacterial infection or a viral infection.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Smarting eyes, a sore throat, coughing and/or sneezing, loss of appetite, sudden chills, or copious sweating, and general debility are some of the symptoms which should alert you to the possibility of viral infection. Nausea or vomiting, severe stomach ache, body aches, especially headaches which feel as though someone has taken a hammer to your head; convulsions, stiffness, disorientation, and unexplained rashes are some of the symptoms which should alert you to the need to contact a doctor, instead of simply waiting out your viral fever. There could be chest pain or difficulty in breathing too if your lungs have been impacted by the viral infection.


What You Should Do

Maintain a chart of your fever at four-hour intervals as it aids the doctor in pinpointing the probable kind of infection. It sounds old fashioned, but rest is actually the best cure for any viral fever. Make sure your body is properly hydrated by drinking plenty of warm water, hot soups, warm fluids like an infusion of chamomile leaves, or green tea steeped with mint leaves, broths, and warm milk. While some people suggest drinking fruit juices like orange juice, or pomegranate juice; these might hurt, if you have a sensitive throat or an inflamed pharynx. Eat lightly with a major focus on vegetables and lentils, though it might not be such a good idea to eat the less easily digested pulses like Bengal gram (chana), chickpeas (Kabuli chana), red beans (rajma), and kidney beans (lobia).

Use nature’s gifts for comfort:

You could try having a paste of basil leaves (tulsi) and ginger mixed with warmed honey. Adding honey to warm milk would soothe the sore throat while easing coughs. Bathing in or sponging with lukewarm water, and taking some over the counter (OTC) antipyretic medication like paracetamol, ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, or acetaminophen tablets for symptomatic relief help more than you might think. Leave windows open, unless there’s a cold draft. You can close the curtains to maintain your privacy, and keep the fan on.

What You Should Not Do

Don’t be smothered under blankets unless you are chilled. Let there be sufficient air passing through your clothes to ensure that sweat doesn’t settle on your body as that can make you catch an additional cold. Even with OTC medications, never take more than the prescribed amount. Risks of doing so include severe, even irreversible, damage to your kidneys and liver, apart from severe damage to the linings of your stomach causing bleeding. Also, there’s a definite danger in giving kids aspirin without a doctor’s recommendation for it could lead to their suffering Reye’s syndrome. Even if this is a rare ailment, why jeopardize the health of your child? It is safer to give them pediatric doses of paracetamol. Never give ibuprofen to infants below six months. Avoid lying or sitting in an airconditioned room.

Content Reviewed by – Asian Hospital Medical Editors