Viral Fever

Table of Contents

  1. What is viral fever ?
  2. How long do they last ?
  3. What medicines should one take ?
  4. What are the precautions that one must take ?
  5. What else can one do if someone has it ?
  6. What are the complications ?
  7. How can one avoid getting these infections ?
  8. What should one do when one has such a fever ?
  9. Are any preventive measures available ?

What is viral fever ?

In medical terms, any fever caused as a result of viral infection is a viral fever. However, colloquially, the term 'viral fever' has come to mean a special type of fever that develops and then gets treated without the offending virus being specifically identified. The course and duration of the fever too does not seem to follow any set pattern and is frequently accompanied by, though not always by all of them, generalised bodyache, running nose, cough, shivering, feeling miserable, irritable and depressed.

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How long do they last ?

Normally between 3 to 7 days with the former being termed as the 'three day fever' and the latter as the 'seven day fever'.

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What medicines should one take ?

This must be decided by your medical doctor. Therefore, the doctor should be consulted without delay and his advice followed diligently. However, it is noteworthy at this point the famous saying 'a viral fever usually gets treated in 7 days with medications and in a week without any'. But without prejudice, please consult your doctor as a matter of routine! Normally, treatment is given for specific complaints like fever, headache, running nose, cough, etc.

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What are the precautions that one must take ?

Remember that any viral fever causes the body immune system to be severely tested. Therefore, the more danger arises as a consequence of having the viral infection than from the specific infection itself. Cough is usually not a good sign and chest infections caused by bacteria (like pneumonia) are quite common - especially in the young and old. Therefore, your doctor would normally prescribe some antibiotics which strictly are not indicated in viral fevers and they are known to cause more harm than good unless absolutely indicated.

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What else can one do if someone has it ?

Discussion about the inadvisability of using antibiotics should be held under special heading and are really out of place over here. There is one more thing. There is absolutely NO place for any sort of corticosteriods in the treatment of viral fevers. It may even prove fatal which is particularly tragic under the circumstances since they are not indicated in the first place. They compromise the body immune system even further, thereby increasing the risk of infections that may be almost impossible to cure even with the latest generation of antibiotics.
Usually, the medications that are prescribed causes dryness of the mouth and the tongue may feel parched. Hence it is imperative to drink as much water as is possible. Besides water, which may be admixed with sugar and lemon and salt, etc., to make it tasty since plain water is plain boring if taken too often, especially in such conditions like viral fever where the patient is both miserable and irritable, soft drinks that are preferably without any colours added to them and are at room temperature (cold drinks aggravate the sore throat, running nose and especially cough), fruit juices that have been freshly squeezed may be taken. Soups, particularly chicken soup, is highly recommended as they are tasty, provide enough water and nutrition, and are said to have beneficial effects in such cases. The old adage 'feed a cold and starve a fever holds good. Please do however check with your doctor regarding the food you may or may not take since you may be having some infection where certain food and drinks are an absolute no no.
Since the body becomes lethargic and there is loss of energy and also because the infecting virus spreads through sneezing, it is best if the patient is generally kept confined in a comfortable and airy place as much away from close contact with others. His clothes, particularly his handkerchiefs, are separately washed with good cleaning fluids. It is preferable if the patient uses disposable facial tissue paper which must be disposed off with care. The patient must also not undertake any hard work without getting the doctor's explicit consent first.
The condition tends to cause irritability, as has been mentioned before, and depression apart from feeling miserable, particularly in the first stage of the condition (typically, but not necessarily, the first 24 to 48 hours). The attendants must therefore be understanding and sympathetic. The patient may not be in a mood to take food, and suffers from lack of taste. While food is necessary, there is not much case for force-feeding unless the patient is quite weak even to walk a few steps or get up from the bed after the first 48 hours have passed. Drinking plenty of fluids must however be insisted upon and making it tasty by adding sugar and squash or syrups helps a lot in making the drink palatable to the patient.

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What are the complications ?

Infections that may occur over and above the viral ones. In the weakened conditions, even the less harmful bacteria can cause havoc to the body.
Rest, especially bed-rest during the fever, plenty of fluids and avoidance of any strenuous work or exercise for around a week is to be followed. Normal, non-strenuous work including daily activities may be resumed as soon as the patient begins to feel better.

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How can one avoid getting these infections ?

Frankly, there is very little chance of avoiding these. Though several vaccines have been developed and successfully tested, particularly in the USA where these infections, when they have occurred have lead to severe epidemics and fatalities, largely the causative viral strains are unknown and having them once does not guarantee any immunity from further infections, especially in the sub-continent. The best methods to be followed are staying away from persons who are sneezing and coughing, particularly during season-change and having a sound body constitution helps. Try not to use tissue papers and handkerchiefs of the suffers and dispose or wash them as hygienically as possible.

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What should one do if one has such a fever ?

Contact your doctor and follow the advice given. Though there is a tendency to self-medicate as more often than not the same medicines are usually prescribed, most of which are available over the counter, the doctor is in the best position to judge whether or not additional medications, tests and precautions are required, and to confirm that indeed you have just viral fever as you have concluded and not something more sinister.

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Are any preventive measures available ?

As has been entailed above, some shots are indeed available, especially for influenza. Unfortunately, since many a times one really does not know what causes the fever in the first place and the disease is cured before any confirmed diagnosis as to the cause can first be made, and also since the offending virus more often than not mutates into a new variety against which there are no effective vaccines are available. Therefore, it is not always easy to take immunisation shots beforehand and be free from getting a viral fever.
Do consult your doctor for further guidance and advice in this matter.

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Compiled from various sources by Dr. S. B. Bhattacharyya.
Copyright [SUDISA]. All rights reserved.
Revised: September 09, 1999.