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Although the average temperature of the human body is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), it can vary depending on the time of day, level of activity, and age. At night, for example, your core body temperature drops in order for you to fall asleep (which is why some people fall asleep faster by sticking their feet out from under their covers). However, when your body temperature goes over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, (38 degrees Celsius) it usually means that you have some kind of viral or bacterial infection.
The medical term for a fever is pyrexia, and although the associated chills, fatigue, and sweatiness are unpleasant, it's an important part of how our immune system fights off illness. The body produces proteins called pyrogens which are carried by the blood to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. Pyrogens tell the brain to raise your body temperature, and this is what causes a fever. You may reach for a fever-reducing medication like an antipyretic, which overrides the pyrogens ability to tell the hypothalamus to raise your body temperature. While this may give you some temporary relief, this might not be the best way strategy towards getting healthy.
Having a fever is actually a sign that your body is actively fighting off the infection. Previously, scientists believed that elevated temperatures inhibited the growth of invading viruses and bacteria, potentially killing them. However, a study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology found that elevated body temperature also helps certain immune cells do their job more effectively. In the study, researchers injected mice with an antigen and then monitored the activation of a type of disease-fighting lymphocyte called CD8+ cytotoxic T-cells. Half of the mice's body temperatures were raised 2 degrees Celsius while the control group's temperature was unchanged. Mice with raised temperatures had more of the CD8+ T cells than the control group mice, which suggests that elevated temperatures enhance the strength of the immune system and help it fight off what's making you sick faster.
So, as uncomfortable as having a fever may be, you're better off not taking that fever-reducing medicine. However, if your body temperature is over 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius), you should definitely see a doctor immediately: temperatures this high can cause the proteins and cell membranes in your body to malfunction or even be destroyed, causing damage to internal organs, and even death.
What's the worst fever that you've ever had? And what do you normally do to get over them? Let us know in the comments down below.
Special thanks to Kaylee Yuhas for hosting this episode of DNews!
Fever Treatment (Mayo Clinic)
"A fever is a common sign of illness, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, fevers seem to play a key role in fighting infections."
The Benefits of Fever (New York Times)
"Fever can indeed be scary, and any fever in an infant younger than 3 months is cause for major concern because of the risk of serious bacterial infections."