Children's Health - High Fevers Can Be Helpful

John Gray

Having psychiatric problems in childhood is challenging enough, but new evidence suggests that these problems can lead to issues as an adult—even if the problems do not persist into adulthood.

Mental health problems for children can include ADHD, behavioral or conduct problems, anxiety and depression. A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry used data from a survey of 1,420 children from 11 counties in rural North Carolina. The children were followed over time and assessed annually between ages 9 and 16 for common psychiatric problems, like depression, anxiety and behavioral issues. The researchers found that 26% of children in the group suffered some form of behavioral or emotional disorder; another 31% displayed “subthreshold” psychiatric problems, or a few symptoms of psychiatric problems without being diagnosed with the condition.

Out of the initial survey group, 1,273 people were later re-evaluated three times at the outset of adulthood—ages 19, 21 and 25—to see how the now-young adults had fared in four areas: health, the legal system, personal finances and social functioning. These included negative life events like being incarcerated, dropping out of high school, having trouble keeping a job and having a serious health problem or addiction. The lead author of the study, Dr. William Copeland of Duke University Medical Center, gave this insight, “Nineteen and 21 are a peak period in terms of criminal behavior, substance problems, and transitioning from the home,” he says, and age 25 is when things typically start to stabilize.

Of the young adults who had suffered from a subthreshold psychiatric problem in childhood, 42% suffered an adverse outcome in adulthood. Of the kids who had behavioral or emotional issues as kids, 60% of them reported having trouble as adults. By comparison, just 20% of the young adults who had no psychiatric issues reported adult problems.

A fever is a helpful and necessary part of the process of healing a childhood illness. During a fever, the heart beats faster, carrying the blood more quickly to all the organs; respiration is quicker, increasing oxygen in the body: and perspiration increases, helping the body to cool down naturally. A high temperature generally indicates that the body's defense mechanism is fighting an infection and temperature variations indicate how it is coping. Attempts to suppress or control a fever artificially with over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol, or even with homeopathic remedies, are likely to confuse the body's natural efforts to heal itself.

Fever increases the amount of interferon (a natural antiviral and anticancer substance) in the blood. A mild fever also increases the white blood cells that kill cells infected with viruses, fungi, and cancer, and improves the ability of certain white blood cells to destroy bacteria and infected cells. Fever also impairs the replication of many bacteria and viruses.

So it makes sense to avoid suppressing moderate fevers with drugs, while continuing to monitor your child for dramatic increases in temperature and worsening of any other of his symptoms.

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