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1 year ago
The Scary Side Effect of Using Pain Relievers to Ease Flu Symptoms

If you come down with the flu, you see your doctor, rest up, and try to keep yourself hydrated. And, most likely, you pop an OTC pain reliever to take the edge off of your aches and fever.

Now, a new Canadian study finds that taking antipyretics (e.g., ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin) when you have the flu might have some completely unexpected consequences—not necessarily for your health, though: In the study, the authors write that they used mathematical projections to show that "the use of antipyretics can have subtle and potentially important negative effects at the population level."

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See: A person whose fever has gone down is more likely to feel up to interacting with other people, the study authors explain. "In addition, fever suppression may increase both the rate and duration of viral shedding, further increasing the pathogen's transmission rate." The study authors estimate that by stopping the use of antipyretics to treat flu symptoms, somewhere in the range of 700 deaths could be prevented each year in the U.S. 

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Before you toss your pain relievers, it's important to remember what this is all riding on: flu-ridden people taking OTC pills and heading out to hang with people. That's where the transmission problems start. 

The authors aren't saying that you should abstain from taking fever-reducing medications when you have the flu, says Ben Bolker, Ph.D., a co-author of the study and a professor in the departments of mathematics & statistics and of biology at McMaster University in Canada. The point is that, even if you take a fever-reducer and start to feel better, you're still very infectious. "While the advice is always to stay home from work if you're sick to avoid infecting people, it's even more important when, first of all, you're feeling better because you took medication, and you're releasing more virus," says Bolker.

Whether or not you take a fever-reducer when you have the flu, you should follow these doctor-approved guidelines for feeling better faster. One of them: waiting it out the whole time the virus runs its course—usually nine to 10 days—before you head back out into the world.

MORE: 6 Foods That Help Fight the Flu

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