To Your Health
January, 2012 (Vol. 06, Issue 01)
The Facts About Fevers
By Claudia Anrig, DC
Our body's first line of defense when invaded by any microbe, virus or bacteria is cells called microphages; a strong, healthy immune system may be able to eliminate the problem with this first step alone.
If these fail to contain the microbe/"bug," then the body creates other pryogens and proteins to try to assist. Once these have been created, the hypothalamus in the brain recognizes there is an invader and raises the body temperature to assist in killing it off.
This elevated temperature will generally be just a couple of degrees, but the hypothalamus determines, based on the number of pryogens and proteins, what will be necessary to eliminate the microbe/bug. If the hypothalamus creates additional biochemicals to try to protect the body, then the temperature rises accordingly.
Defining a Fever
For all children above the age of 3 months, a fever is actually a good thing. It's a sign that their immune system is functioning properly. Although many parents will panic when their child has a temperature above 98.6° F (37° C), and this is understandable since many health care providers have called this a "low-grade fever," the reality is that children's temperature may naturally run a little higher than what many consider the norm.
A true low-grade fever is anything between 100° F and 102.2° F (37.8° C and 39° C). This level of fever is beneficial; with most microbes/"bugs" that a child will be exposed to, this fever will assist the body in repelling the invader.
A moderate-grade fever is typically between 102.2° F and 104.5° F (39° C and 40° C). This temperature is still considered beneficial; if a child's body has reached this temperature, it's what's needed to kill whatever bacteria or virus their body is attempting to fight.
A high fever is a fever greater than 104.5° F (40° C). This fever may cause the child some discomfort and result in a bit of crankiness. Generally indicative of a bacterial infection, this fever means that the body is fighting something a little more serious than the common cold. While it will not cause brain damage or any other harm to a child, it is wise to seek assistance from their medical provider.
A serious fever is one that is at or above 108° F (42° C); this fever can be harmful.
Can a Fever Be Dangerous?
Fevers that are caused by the body's immune system are not dangerous, and the hypothalamus will control the body temperature and not allow it to get so high as to cause harm. While it can be frightening to have a child running a moderate to high fever, it is simply their body doing what it was designed to do.
The only body temperature that can actually cause brain damage, despite what many parents believe, is 108° F (42° C), and this body temperature cannot typically be achieved on its own, but requires extreme external environmental temperatures – for instance, if a child is left in a closed car in hot weather.