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Report says fever-reducing meds encourage the spread of the flu

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A new study by McMaster University in Canada says people who take medications with fever-reducing ingredients and then have contact with others are encouraging transmission of the flu virus.

Lead researcher David Earn says, "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."

Researchers realized that avoiding medications with ibuprofen, acetaminophen and acetylsalicylic acid and just staying home could save many lives. Their research estimates as many as 1,000 lives across North America each year could be saved.

Professor Ben Bolker says, "We put together a chain — how many people have influenza, how many of them take these anti-fever drugs, how much does that increase the amount of virus they give off, how much does that increase the chance that they’re going to affect somebody else, how much does that increase the overall size of the seasonal flu epidemic. When you put all those numbers together, the answer you get is it increases the size of the annual influenza epidemic by about five per cent. The influenza epidemic is huge — it’s millions of people," he said. "Five per cent is a lot."

Bolker goes onto say, "Given the way we put all these numbers together, it looks like if nobody took anti-fever when they got sick with influenza, the number of cases would go down five per cent, presumably the number of deaths would go down five per cent, and that’s a lot of cases and a lot of deaths," he said.

However, Bolker cautions that there is some uncertainty in the numbers, mostly because studying how the flu transmission works is hard to do. It would call for isolation and very careful attention paid to method of contact.

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