Prof. dr. Wiesław Kozak, talks about the effects of taking antipyretic drugs, natural body reactions, and relationships between fever and cancer. He is a dean of the Department of Biology and Environmental Protection of the Nicolaus Copernicus University, head of the immunology department, an outstanding specialist in research on fever.
What is a fever?
It is a physiological reaction that occurs during infection, caused deliberately by our body. We have a fever inscribed in the genome, in the genes of a febrile reaction. We have substances produced by our own body, through our own immune cells, designed to increase body temperature. You also need to distinguish the external factors that cause fever and the very reaction of fever. The microbes infect us, ex. the influenza virus, and are the cause of the activation of “fever genes”, and the synthesis of substances that increase body temperature. The fever reaction to infection indicates that our immune system is working.
Everyone thinks that fever is bad, but is that true?
Yes. Fever means that the body fights infection. There are, of course, physiological conditions in which we would not like to have a fever, which is troublesome and exposes you to serious complications, such as during pregnancy, or post-transplant period, or in people with cardiovascular disorders.
At what temperature does the fever start?
It starts at 37,4 degrees Celsius.
So, the temperature of 37 degrees Celsius – is not fever yet?
This is a low-grade condition. Often meaning that our body is unable to cause a fever, and thus pointing to some problems of our immune system. In such cases, you need to take care of strengthening your immunity. Fever trains the immune system. If we want it to be efficient, we must be able to create this state (cause a fever). This state is important for the future. I always tell patients that if they have a fever, they should be happy.
The common propaganda saying that you should break the fever using pharmacological agents is nonsense?
We are attacked from every angle by this type of ridiculous advertising. However, it does not work in favor of patients but pharmaceutical companies. We also are to blame because of excessive use of anti-fever medicines. If there is a natural mechanism in nature, it must not be switched off for any reason. We often take pills as soon as the temperature of our body increases. This is a big mistake. If too often we turn off the fever, the body will eventually give it up. In a serious situation, it will not alert us to the threat and our immune system will go to sleep and ignore the potentially serious situation.
What else can happen through the excessive use of medications?
The results of the study clearly show that people in their 30s and 40s are less and less likely to have a fever. This has fatal consequences. We already have an enormous amount of scientific evidence to support this thesis. If someone did not get a fever for 10 years, then the risk of cancer increases significantly. Later, someone is surprised that they were as healthy as a horse, and then they get cancer. So, let’s not turn off the possibilities that the fever gives us.
The fever is strongly connected with the pain?
Rather, the action of analgesics and antipyretics medications. The action of these substances has a certain molecular mechanism common to the painful and feverish reaction. The most popular painkillers also turn off the reaction of fever.
What should we do then?
Fight the cause, not the symptom. You have to stop the infection and not the fever.
Is there a specific body temperature that is dangerous to man’s life?
It is assumed that this is 41.1 degrees Celsius. Children can, however, have up to 42 degrees. Parents should know, then, that they need to cool the brain before it overheats – use compresses; not icy, but cool – about 20 degrees Celsius. The central (cerebral) nervous system is sensitive to high temperatures. Peripheral and our organs, so-called internal, they are resistant to it. A fever simultaneously triggers a homeostatic reaction, counteracting excessive fever, or a reaction regulating its level/intensity.
Then we shouldn’t worry about the fever?
No, that’s not what I wanted to say (laughs). You must always diagnose what it is caused by. Cancer can also cause a fever, but it can also be a result of a strong tan (sun exposure), emotional stress, or physical injury.
The fever itself is not a disease, but a signal that the body has been exposed to destructive forces.