Pain relievers like Tylenol spread flu

International Business Times January 22, 2014

Taking fever-reducing pills when sick is one way to get a little relief, but it may have unintended consequences for others. According to researchers in Canada, popping acetaminophen, ibuprofen or other pain relievers can actually help spread the flu to others.

A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that, based on factors like the quantity of pain relievers sold and the reproduction rate of the flu virus, using these drugs leads to an additional 700 flu deaths and several thousand more infections a year.

“We’re not saying to avoid these drugs,” David J.D. Earn, a professor of mathematics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and senior author of the study, told The New York Times. “But if you take them, there’s this effect that’s not obvious.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands – and even tens of thousands – of people die every year in the U.S. as a result of the flu virus.

Fever-relieving medicine can certainly lower one’s body temperature, and alleviate some of the symptoms of the flu, but it can also encourage the virus to continue thriving in the body. Health experts believe a fever is the body’s way of killing the virus, so getting rid of the body’s mechanism for combatting the flu can, in principle, increase the amount of virus we can pass on to others.

Also, symptom relievers can give flu sufferers a false sense of feeling better, thereby increasing their chances of interacting with others.

As New Scientist noted, researchers studied the effect lowering a fever has on the prevalence of a virus by turning to a 1982 study of fever in ferrets. According to the study, ferrets react to the flu similarly to humans. When researchers lowered the ferrets’ fevers either by giving them medication or shaving off their fur, their bodies produced more seasonal flu virus.

Applying this model to the U.S. population, researchers estimated that fever-reducing pills may lead to a 5 percent increase in seasonal flu infections.

“Because fever can actually help lower the amount of virus in a sick person’s body and reduce the chance of transmitting disease to others, taking drugs that reduce fever can increase transmission,” study researcher David Earn, a professor of mathematics at McMaster University, said in a statement. “We’ve discovered that this increase has significant effects when we scale up to the level of the whole population.”

The research comes on the heels of a body of research that suggests overmedication, such as the overuse of antibiotics, can lead to unintended consequences, like the emergence of drug-resistant “superbugs.”

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4 Responses to Pain relievers like Tylenol spread flu

  1. Robert Cannon says:

    An obvious observation – anyone taught what a fever is for knows that reducing it will reduce the effects. But intense marketing negates logic somehow. And no mention of the infamous flu shot? Why worry if you get your super shot? In reality, you are better off not getting the shot and doing natural immune boosters from good diet, vit C and D (5000 units at least daily) and exercise and you will not get the flu or any of the other 200 things out there that cause flu symptoms. There is no other way I’ve found. The flu shot is practically of zero benefit given the negative toxic effects that add up long term. And it has been shown to have no benefit anyway. It’s the “healthy patient effect”. The flu danger statistics are way overblown also and include pneumonia, blaming it all on flu.

  2. cia parker says:

    Great study! Taking Tylenol or any other fever reducer greatly increases mortality from measles, as interfering with a fever is the worst thing you can do for the patient. As Robert said, the fever is there to kill the virus, it is not in itself the enemy, but the patient’s best friend. Fever should not be interfered with: the patient should be allowed to pull up or push off his covers, as needed for comfort, and kept well-hydrated, and other than that just stay in bed, no food, no baths or showers till the fever is gone. Vitamin A and C help. The Waldorf school advises leaving the fever alone as long as the calves of the legs are cool, and I found when my daughter was little that this is correct, that even when the forehead is very hot with fever, the calves will be cool as long as the fever is still needed. When the calves feel warm, that means that the fever has done its job and is ready to go, and then you can wrap the calves in towels soaked in lemon water. When I tried it, my daughter’s temperature dropped by one degree in the fifteen minutes before and after I put the wraps around her legs.

  3. Mark Richards says:

    “Health experts believe a fever is the body’s way of killing the virus, so getting rid of the body’s mechanism for combatting the flu can, in principle, increase the amount of virus we can pass on to others.”

    Sung to the tune of A-Duhhhhh. In principle.

    And this is the best our system of public health can do? This is what they have to offer?? Surely our understanding of biological basics is better than this? Surely our learned and advanced medicine men are not just now figuring out that if you tinker with infection response, you break infection response?? (substitute “immune response” for the same effect)


    Makes me want to run right out and get some health care advice from the AMA.

    Not likely.

  4. Synotrex says:

    Yes! Finally someone writes about take pain relievers.

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