The use of cold and fever medication can make people feel better, but researchers now claim that these medicines can also spread influenza. Researchers from McMaster University have stated that while people who take over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu medications may get well faster than they would have without the meds, they are still infectious. The study has created some controversy, as it was done using complex mathematical calculations rather than studying a group of patients to understand how the infection is spread.
The Canadian study states that as many as a thousand people on average could succumb to the flu every year just because
of patients taking OTC meds that contain ibuprofen and acetaminophen and then heading off to school, work or the grocery store. David Earn, a researcher associated with the study, advises that people should not construe the findings of the research as reason not to take medication. But they should realize that taking them and immediately going out can increase the chances of infecting others.
“The take-home message for the public is, if you are sick, stay home,” says Dr. Arnold Monto, who is associated with the University of Michigan. This means that even if the person feels better after taking the medicine, they should still stay home for a couple of days, until they are no longer infectious.
David Earn and his colleagues evaluated certain factors, such as how many people get a fever, how many take medication for their fever, when do people get the flu and what the chances are of a person transmitting the flu if their fever is lowered and the results were quite astounding. The researchers found that when there is widespread use of medication to reduce fever, one of the symptoms of influenza, there is a five percent increase in the reported cases of flu in North America, in a typical year.
Cold and fever medicines contain ingredients that help to bring down the fever and make a person with influenza think they are better when they are still contagious and can spread the condition. With the body ache and feverishness gone, these people will venture outdoors and become vehicles of transmission. The Center for Disease Control advises people to use medication if they have a fever associated with influenza, as these meds do help in lowering the temperature and will help them feel better. “If the fever is stopping you from being able to get out of bed and having that cup of soup to help you feel better, well then go ahead and take that over-the-counter fever medication,” advises Dr. Jesse Pappenburg, an infectious disease specialist associated with the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
So why exactly does taking medicines to reduce cold and fever when suffering from influenza increase the risk of the illness spreading? When a person is running a temperature, the body’s immune system is fighting to lower the number of viruses in the body. This process is somewhat impeded when medication is taken, thus increasing the chances of transmission. However, Dr. Pappenburg opines that the findings of this study is contrary to traditional convention in medicine, which strongly believes in treating a fever, cold and cough with OTC medication, as not controlling the fever could result in dehydration and seizures particularly in young children, and lead to an emergency. According to the available statistics, influenza kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people every year.
By Grace Stephen
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention