Friday 20 September 2013

Viral fever: How to recognize, diagnose and treat it

Viral fever: How to recognize, diagnose and treat it

by Pavitra Sampath

'Oh! You have viral fever', is a common response when someone we know comes down with a fever. The person usually suffers from symptoms like fever, generalised body ache, weakness and a general feeling of discomfort. But could there be more to the condition than just self-medicating and suffering through it? Here are some things you should keep in mind when you suddenly suffer from fever.   

What is viral fever?

Viral fever, as the name suggests, is a condition that is transmitted from one person to another through direct contact with the person's bodily fluids. This is much simpler than you think. When a person coughs, sneezes, yawns or even talks they tend to spray tiny particles of fluid that contain bacteria and viruses from their body. If you are close enough, these bacteria enter your body through your nose or mouth and infect you. Once infected it takes anywhere from 16 hours to 48 hours to turn into a full blown infection.

While this doesn't mean that we all need to become hypochondriacs, it does mean that we should be careful with our personal hygiene. Some common steps to keep diseases like this at bay would be to wash your hands regularly, avoid crowded places and avoid touching your face (mouth and nose) with your hands without washing them. Another thing to remember is that if you do have cold, viral fever or cough, avoid crowded areas, always cover your mouth with a clean hanky while coughing, sneezing or yawning. This not only minimises the number of bacteria/viruses you transmit it also ensures that you don't catch any other disease when you are already ill. 

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will most likely listen to the symptoms you have, and come to a conclusion about your illness. But in some cases doctor may tend to prescribe blood tests to rule out any other conditions like dengue, malaria, chikungunya, typhoid, etc. A blood test may also be indicated in cases where your doctor needs to differentiate between the causative organisms. That means he/she wants to know if your fever is caused due a bacteria or virus. Since a virus cannot be detected by a blood test and a bacterium can, the test is mainly to rule out bacterial infection. (Read: Causes of fever you didn't know about)

How can I differentiate between viral fever and something more serious?

Since the symptoms of viral fever often overlap other common and serious conditions it is pertinent to know about the symptoms that can help you differentiate between a viral fever and other diseases. The red flags you need to keep an eye out for are – very high fever that is either of the following:

     Intermittent in nature (occurs at regular intervals)
     Occurs along with chills
     Doesn't subside with medicines
     Has been present for a long time
Other symptoms are severe pain around the joints, vomiting, swelling of the face and a rash. If you experience any of these symptoms make it a point to visit your doctor immediately.

What can you so once you have viral fever?

If you are suffering from viral fever it is best that you take enough rest and have warm soothing food like soup and khichidi till you get better. If you have very severe symptoms like high fever, extreme body ache, etc. you should visit your doctor for some medicines to give you some symptomatic relief. A number of people tend to self medicate during such times, relying on antipyretics, analgesics and antibiotics to help them out, but remember that self-medication is a bad idea. More importantly a viral fever will not heal with antibiotics. Antibiotics are medicines that are made to kill bacteria, they cannot kill viruses; so by taking them, all you are doing is heading towards a bad case of acidity, stomach disturbance and in more severe cases damage to your liver and kidneys.

Can I stop taking antibiotics once I recover?

If your doctor has prescribed you antibiotics after diagnosing you with viral fever, it is usually to help beat any opportunistic or secondary infections you might catch while you are sick. When prescribed it is important to complete the entire course of the medication, even if you are feeling better. This is because discontinuation of antibiotics midway leads to the formation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. This is a risk factor not only for you but also others who might get infected by it.

Can viral fever recur?

No, once a person is infected by a virus, he/she cannot be infected by the same virus again because the body makes antibodies (infection fighters) for that specific virus. These antibodies fight the virus before it has a chance to infect you once again. If you suffer from recurrent viral fever it is likely that you have been infected by different types of viruses at different stages.

Finally, remember that you should not ignore a fever, do not self-medicate and visit a doctor at once if you notice symptoms like high fever with chills, one that won't subside with medication, one that lasts for a long time and one that is intermittent in nature. (Read: 5 reasons the summer could be tough on you)

For more articles on diseases and conditions, check out our diseases & conditions section and for videos, check out our YouTube Channel. 

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