A body’s immune system comes into action as soon as it detects harmful foreign pathogens, like viruses, in the body. The body responds to this intrusion by increasing the temperature, thus causing a viral fever.
What is viral fever?
The increase in body temperature above the body normal temperature (98.6°F or 37°C) due to an autoimmune response of the body is classified as a fever. Fever is not a disease by itself; it is just the body’s response to certain infections.
When a virus enters the body and infects different body parts, the body increases its temperature to kill these invaders—the resulting condition is known as a viral fever. Common attributes associated with viral fever include headaches, burning eyes, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and of course high temperature.
Viral fever is most prevailing in individuals with reduced immunity, such as children, elderly, or people with pre-existing diseases. Generally, viral fever subsides within few days in both adults and children. However, depending on the type of viral infection, recovery time may differ.
If the left unchecked, viral fever can develop into a complicated situation and the person with fever can contract more than one diseases. Viral fever can sometimes become life-threatening as well. For example, hemorrhagic viral infections cause internal bleeding and may lead to death if treatment is not given on time.
Most viral infections are contagious. Diseases such as chickenpox, Ebola, and SARS Cov-2 are examples of highly contagious viral infections. This is why, it is important to take preventive measures when you are tending to a person with the infection.
Not all viral fevers are seasonal; some viral infections are highly probable during a certain time of the year. Insect bites and food contamination are the most common ways in which a virus spreads, and the movement/life cycle of some animals is seasonal. For example, the population of the mosquito that causes dengue increases during the rainy season.
Types of viral fever
Just as there are different types of viruses, there are different types of viral fevers as well. Dengue, flu, common cold, etc. are all examples of viral fever.
1. Fever caused by respiratory viral diseases
This type of viral fever is accompanied by runny/stuffy nose, sneezing/coughing, and body aches. Respiratory viral diseases (such as flu, SARS (including Covid-19)) affect the upper and/or lower regions of the respiratory tract and are highly contagious.
2. Fever caused by exanthematous viral disease
Conditions like measles, chickenpox, chikungunya, etc. result in rashes on the skin with high body temperature. Many viruses, including measles, of this category are highly contagious, but most of these diseases can be prevented by vaccination.
3. Fever caused by hepatic viral disease
Hepatic viral diseases such as Hepatitis A, B, and E are accompanied by fever and target the liver. This type of viral fever is not common and requires medical diagnosis to identify.
4. Fever caused by hemorrhagic viral disease
Ebola, dengue fever, and yellow fever are some examples of hemorrhagic viral diseases. This type generally includes symptoms such as high fever, body aches, and weakness.
Hemorrhagic viral diseases are severe conditions caused by viruses that damage the circulatory system.
5. Fever caused by neurologic viral disease
People can be infected by viruses that infect the brain and/or cause damage to the tissues surrounding the brain through an insect bite or some other means. The symptoms of this condition include seizures and coordination problems along with fever.
If a person has a persistent fever of more than 103° F/40° C, they should immediately seek medical attention to avoid any complications. High fever is more damaging to young children than adults; nonetheless, if high fever is left unchecked it can cause serious trouble.
As per the above categorisation, viral fever is of different types and accompanied by various symptoms. Following is a list of some common symptoms of viral fever:
- Fever that rises and falls or constant fever
- Chills accompanied by the fever
- Headache and/or body ache (severe muscle and joint pain in some cases)
- Fatigue or weakness
- Cough and cold
- Sore throat
- Burning eyes
- Nasal and/or chest congestion
- Skin rashes
- Inflamed pharynx (tube at the back of the neck starting from nose)
- Painful tonsils
- Diarrhoea or stomach ache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Some viruses may cause haemorrhaging (such as bleeding under the skin, and inside internal organs)
It can take anywhere form 16 to 48 hours for the intrusion of a virus to become a full-blown infection. However, the infected person may not realise that they have been infected until they suddenly start feeling feverish and experience chills, body aches, headaches, and weakness.
It can take upto 21 days for some strains to become effective and the body to show symptoms. Few people may also remain asymptomatic just as it was observed with a few cases of COVID-19.
Any person who experiences severe symptoms or sees no improvement even after 2–3 days of being on medication should go for a general physician consultation immediately.
The best way to diagnose viral fever (which is characterised by high temperature and body aches) is by conducting a comprehensive fever test. Since fever is only the body’s reaction to certain diseases, it is difficult to diagnose specific type of viral fever only by checking the symptoms.
Going for a general physician consultation is the right thing to do if a person experiences symptoms similar to the symptoms of viral fever. In case of severe symptoms, it is likely that the doctor will ask the infected person to undergo diagnostic tests for further treatment. The samples of their blood, urine, and sputum are collected and subjected to a comprehensive fever test to check for the presence of any virus.
Sharing the medical history of the person, who has viral fever, with the doctor is also important as it can help them with diagnosis.
Generally, viral fever is caused by insect bites or contamination by a third-party. Viral infection from an indirect source is one way in which people contract contagious diseases.
A person can get infected when:
- they are exposed to a virus in form of air droplets spread by a person with infection while talking, sneezing, or coughing. Inhaling these air droplets can lead to an infection in others,
- they consume a food item that is contaminated with the virus,
- they exchange bodily fluids with the infected person. Viruses can spread by performing intercourse or sharing food with them,
- they are injected with needles used for people with the infection or blood transfusion, and
- they inhale faeces or urine of an infected animal.
Apart from these, insect bites from mosquitoes and ticks (containing a virus) can lead to viral fever, indicating infection.
Poor hygiene and stagnant water result in the multiplication of viruses, thus increasing the risk of infection. The outbreaks of dengue (caused by insect bites) are common during the monsoon season.
How to prevent viral fever?
Prevention is better than cure, especially with diseases such as COVID-19, which have permanent or long-lasting impacts on a person’s health. Follow the below mentioned tips to prevent viral fever:
- Maintain proper cleanliness and personal hygiene
Viruses are ever-present in our surroundings; some of these viruses are more harmful than others. Maintaining cleanliness in and around one’s home and office is a great way to prevent viral infections.
If a person has viral fever, it becomes crucial to take preventive action. Self-isolation and good personal hygiene are essential in containing the spread of infection.
Practices such as washing hands before every meal and covering the mouth while coughing/sneezing should be followed. Teaching children from an early age about these practices is a good idea.
Vaccination is a highly efficient approach to prevent viral infections. The vaccination programs for infants and toddlers should be planned well before their birth; these vaccines prevent them against viral infections such as chickenpox and polio.
During a medical crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people are encouraged for mass vaccination to minimise the spread of the virus.
Taking precaution is important as it reduces a person’s chances of getting infected, but it does not guarantee that they won’t have viral infection. For example, some people can be affected by chickenpox even after getting vaccinated.
If proper medical care is not given to the person with viral fever in a timely manner, the risk of complication increases. For example, people affected with flu can develop complications such as pneumonia or ear infections if required treatment is not given to them.
Patient with severe cases of viral fever may develop the following ailments:
- Shock and seizures
- Hallucinations and delirium
- Multiple organ failure
- Malfunctions in respiratory system
- Malfunctions in nervous system
- Myocarditis or inflammation of the heart
It is not an exaggeration to say that many of these conditions can be life-threatening and should be avoided.
Treating viral fever is easier than fighting multiple organ failure. Hence, a general physician consultation is best when the symptoms of viral fever first surface. Do not self-medicate.
How to treat viral fever?
After assessing a person’s viral fever symptoms and their severity, the doctor may prescribe drugs like paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce fever. There is no such thing as viral fever medicine to treat viral infection except for a few antiviral drugs dedicated for diseases like the flu.
Hence, the most appropriate viral fever treatment for low-grade fever is aiding the body in its natural healing process with the drugs that reduce symptoms and warm baths and electrolytes to ease muscle aches. To avoid any complications and prevent a secondary bacterial infection, a course of antibiotics is also recommended by doctors.
The dosage and frequency of medicine is increased by a doctor for cases with high-grade viral fever or severe infection. Medicines, such as paracetamol, can be given intravenously as well to reduce the symptoms.
Antiviral therapy with paracetamol and antihistamines may also be administered. It is crucial to follow the medical prescription religiously, especially when it comes to antibiotic medicines.
What is the best course of action?
People often choose to self-medicate, which may not be the best idea in case of viral fever. In most cases, viral fever goes away within 3 to 4 days. But it is better to go for a general physician consultation if there is no improvement or the symptoms seem to be getting worse.
Many people start taking antibiotics when they have moderately high fever without consulting a doctor, which is advised against. Antibiotics are tricky medicines; your body can develop resistance against some antibiotics, rendering them ineffective in the future if taken improperly. Besides, antibiotics can only prevent a secondary infection as mentioned earlier and cannot treat viral fever.
Since the body fights against viral fever on its own, less aggressive methods of treatment (such as ayurveda, homeopathy, or home remedies) can be relied on for low-mild viral fever. Most of the times, a viral fever is not serious.
Call a doctor immediately if the body temperature reaches 103°F for adults and 100.4°F for babies. Apart from this, following symptoms of viral fever require urgent medical care:
- Severe headache
- Difficulty in breathing
- Frequent vomiting
- Seizures or convulsions
- Worsening rash
- Disruption in cognitive abilities
What should one eat in viral fever?
Eating simple and nutritious food (rich in protein and vitamins) that is easy to digest can help you recover quickly from viral fever. Here’s a list of recommended food items one can indulge in:
- Apples and bananas
- Fruits that are rich in Vitamin C such as oranges or fruit juices
- Chicken soup/vegetable broth
- Coconut water
Things to remember when a person has viral fever
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
- Eat healthy food that is easy to digest
- Adequate rest helps in speedy recovery
- Avoid searching for symptoms online; don’t come to conclusions
- Go for general physician consultation before taking any medication
- Take the prescribed medication as directed by a doctor
- Maintain personal hygiene
- Do not share personal belongings and food with anyone else
Viral fever is caused by a viral infection, and there is no prominent drug that can cure it. Although, health care industry has come up with a few antiviral drugs to cure specific viral diseases, the human body is capable of curing infection on its own.
The best thing anyone can do, in most cases, is to take drugs that reduce viral fever symptoms after a general physician consultation.