Viral Fever

Posted September 6, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 3 min read

A viral fever is a higher-than-average body temperature that a virus causes. Often, a person will experience symptoms that may include a runny nose, coughing, nausea, fatigue, and body aches.

Causes of Viral Fever

  • There are many potential causes of viral illness, which may include cold and flu viruses.

  • Sometimes, a bacterial illness follows a viral one.

  • This can make it difficult to tell the difference between the two and determine when a person may benefit from taking antibiotics.

  • Fevers without any other apparent underlying illness can be especially common in young children.

  • In a study of 75 children with a fever but no other signs of bacterial infection, the results of which appeared in the journal Pediatrics, an estimated 76 percent had one or more viruses in their system.

  • The most common viruses present were the adenovirus, human herpesvirus 6, enterovirus, and parechovirus.

  • The paper estimated that less than 1 percent of fever-related illnesses with no appearance of a clear source in children under 3 were due to bacterial infections.

Symptoms of Viral Fever

  • A fever is the body’s natural reaction to exposure to disease-causing pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria.

  • The body’s increase in temperature can destroy the proteins in these pathogens to keep them from multiplying.

  • Also, fever is an inflammatory response to the illness in the body.

  • The definition of a fever depends on a person’s age and where the temperature reading originates from.

According to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, the following are indicators of a fever in children:

  • Rectal, ear, or forehead: The temperature is higher than 100.4°F (38.0°C).

  • Oral: The temperature is higher than 100°F (37.8°C).

  • Under the armpit: The temperature is higher than 99°F (37.2°C).

  • The definition of fever can vary in adults.

  • However, many doctors will consider a body temperature reading using an oral thermometer that is higher than 100°F (37.8°C) as a fever.

A viral fever can cause a person to feel fatigued, irritable, and achy. Additional symptoms may vary based on the virus causing the underlying illness.

For example, the roseola virus causes a fever for 2–3 days in children, followed by a rash that starts about 12–24 hours after the fever subsides.

Diagnosis of Viral Fever

  • A doctor will take a person’s health history and ask questions about their symptoms when diagnosing a potential viral fever.

  • Examples of these questions may include when a person first noticed the symptoms and what makes these symptoms worse or better.

  • A doctor may order tests to identify the presence of viruses in a person’s blood, sputum, or urine.

  • For example, a rapid influenza diagnostic test involves taking cell samples from the back of the throat and testing them for the presence of influenza A or B proteins.

  • Not all tests for viral illnesses are available so quickly, however.

  • In fact, some may require laboratory analysis to identify the specific virus.

  • However, it is not always necessary to send tests to the laboratory to diagnose a viral fever.

  • A doctor may take into account a person’s symptoms to make this diagnosis.

Treatment of Viral Fever

For lower-grade fevers, treatments may include the following:

  • Taking OTC medications: Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are both OTC medications that can relieve fever. Aspirin can also do this, but people under 18 should not take aspirin due to the risks of a condition called Reye’s syndrome. Antibiotics will not treat a fever due to viral illness.

  • Taking lukewarm baths: These can also soothe a feverish body.

  • Drinking cooled fluids: Sipping on cool water or electrolyte-containing solutions can help cool body temperatures and prevent dehydration related to illness.

If a person has a fever for longer than 3 days, or they have a temperature higher than 103°F (39.4°C) in adults, 102°F (38.9°C) in children, or 100.4°F (38°C) in infants, they should seek medical attention.

Body temperatures higher than this can cause seizures, hallucinations, and confusion, and they are symptoms of a more serious illness.

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