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    Rerun: A Perspective on Fevers

    October 5, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    This post first appeared in December of 2006. You can view the original here. At the time, E.-age-eight was age 4.

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    evers are on my mind this morning because E. had quite a high one yesterday evening. And of course, the immediate question from anyone who knows is, “What have you given him for it?” This question has also been known to apply to teething, coughs, colds, sniffles, and stomach flu. One person (who didn’t know us) suggested we give him some aspirin. I suppose this person is unfamiliar with Reye’s syndrom and the medical advice that no child be given aspirin for a fever–ever. I didn’t know about this until E. was born and our pediatrician gave me strict instructions concerning the use of aspirin.

    My first instinct when a child is ill or in pain is to do nothing. (Other than offer comfort, of course.) Medicine is poison. To give an extreme example, take chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a known poison. There are warning labels on it. When cancer is bad enough that it is killing the patient, doctors often administer chemotherapy treatments, which kill not only cancer, but the body as well. Being treated by chemotherapy is essentially running a race to see which dies first–the cancer or the body. I am not saying that one should not take chemotherapy. There are good reasons to do so.

    We often fight disease with poison.

    Let’s take Tylenol (as an example, not as an activity). Doctors have said for years that Tylenol is mild and gentle on one’s system, and yet it has now been learned that Tylenol has the ability to overwhelm the liver.

    In the instance of mild illnesses like colds and flus, or minor pains like headaches and teething, I believe that one should think carefully before administering a poison.

    So to be more on-topic, repeat after me: The fever is not the sickness. Chant this like a mantra.

    Treating a fever is not unlike trying to “treat” a swollen lymph node. The swelling of the lymph nodes is a common side effect when the body is fighting a sickness of some kind. The swelling is good and indicates that the body has successfully trapped some of its “enemies” inside the gland, where they will be systematically destroyed. Fever is just like a swollen gland.

    Let me explain by quoting Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn’s book How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor:

    If your child contracts an infection, the fever that accompanies it is a blessing, not a curse. It occurs because of the spontaneous release of pyrogens that cause the body temperature to rise. This is a natural defense mechanism that our bodies employ to fight disease. The presence of fever tells you that the repair mechanisms of the body have gone into high gear.

    The process works like this: When an infection develops, your child’s body responds by manufacturing additional white blood cells, called leucocytes. They destroy bacteria and viruses and remove damaged tissue and irritating materials from the body. The activity of the white cells is also increased, and they move more rapidly to the site of the infection. This part of the process, called leucotaxis, is stimulated by the release of the pyrogens that raise body temperature. Hence the fever. A rising body temperature simply indicates that the process of healing is speeding up. It is something to rejoice over, not to fear.

    Even the American Academy of Family Physicians admits that the primary motivation for treating a fever is to provide the child with comfort:

    Fevers are a sign that the body is fighting an infection. The main reason to treat your child is to make him or her feel better. When your child is achy and fussy, you may want to give him or her some medicine.

    (Interestingly enough, this page has been changed since 2006. Now it says:

    Fevers are a sign that the body is fighting germs that cause infection. If your child is between 3 months of age and 3 years of age, you may want to avoid giving him or her medicine if he or she is running a low-grade fever (up to 100.2°F [37.8°C]).


    And Dr. Lisa Buenger has written:

    Many people believe that fever in and of itself is a disease. Rather, a fever is a response to illness occurring in the body. Fever works to protect people during infections, most commonly caused by viruses or bacteria. The fever itself doesn’t harm, but it can make a child uncomfortable. And when a child is not feeling well, there can be fear and anxiety in parents and patients.

    My philosophy is that I refuse to administer a poison to my child to make the child feel better (as compared to, say, actually getting better), or, even worse, to make myself feel better. It is hard to watch a child feel badly, and so easy to want to relieve the pain. But the fever is a beneficial protection created by God, and therefore we choose to have the standard treatment be love, lots of liquids, and rocking with Mom in the rocking chair.

    As an aside, I will note that Dr. Mendelsohn’s book suggests calling one’s doctor if the fever lasts more than three days, was caused by a heat stroke or poison, is accompanied by severe nausea or any difficulty breathing. Notice he doesn’t say to treat the fever. He says these are signs that medical care needs to be sought after. Please do not think that I would suggest depriving a child of necessary medical care. I simply don’t consider fever reducers necessary.

    So there it is: my perspective on fevers. If anyone out there wants to gain an appreciation for God’s handiwork, I would highly suggest studying the lymph system of the body. Not only does this knowledge help one make better decisions in regards to the treatment of disease, it also shows how miraculous is this body that God created.

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