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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Fevers

Can you sweat them out? Could you ever be prescribed more cowbell by a doctor? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: fevers! Starve ’em, sweat ’em out or get ’em for the flava of the hoochie? 

Lie # 1: Got a Fever? Sweat It Out!

The thinking behind the idea of sweating a fever out seems pretty sound — it’s just helping the body do what it was doing anyway. The body fights some infections by raising its temperature to become inhospitable to them, which is what a fever is — a byproduct of your body’s immune response, rather than the infection itself.

So the thinking was, why not help? Throw a few extra blankets on, boost your body temperature further and fuck that infection up, yo! But there’s no evidence that doing so has any benefit, and overheating your body can do a lot more harm than good. You’re much better off drinking lots of water, getting lots of rest, trying to remain as comfortable as possible and letting your body do its thing. There will sometimes, but not always, be a point where you start sweating heavily as you start getting better. This is known as defervescence, which sounds like an also-ran nu-metal band but is in fact the cooling-down process that takes place once you have no need for an elevated core temperature.

Also, not all fevers are the same. Some are caused by viruses, some by bacterial infections, some by immune disorders. Depending on what you have, you might be better off going to bed and letting it take its course, stamping it out with anti-inflammatories, or in some cases, taking antibiotics. You might, like an excited fan of be-fringed baroque-emo-popsters Panic! At The Disco heading home from a record store in 2005, have A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.

Lie # 2: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

Well, colds often lead to fevers, and where the fuck are you then? You can’t feed something and starve it at the same time. Not even the Human Centipede guy managed that.

The thinking used to be that eating raised your body temperature, which was what you wanted with a cold (which people thought you got from a lowered body temperature, but is in fact a virus) but the opposite of what you wanted with a fever. 

However, the answer, according to Scientific American, is to feed both colds and fevers — basically, if you’re ill, try to eat enough and make sure you’re hydrated. Your body will churn through calories when you have a fever, as raising your body temperature requires a lot of energy. If you feel nauseous or have diarrhea, eating might not appeal much, in which case, just eat as much or as little as you like (which is, manifestly, not “starving”) — generally, even if you eat next-to-nothing you’ll be fine — and drink plenty of water. Also, be prepared to eat a shitload when you’re better. 

Yay! Now you have a reason to live.

Lie #3: “‘Fever for the Flava’ by Hot Action Cop, From the Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 Soundtrack, Totally Rules!”

Whatever fond memories you might have of late-night PS2 sessions, revisiting this 2003 rap-metal song about “taking that booty to the nudie dimension” isn’t a great experience. It has a deeply problematic video, is “mildly racist,” and all in all, really hasn’t stood the test of time. Also, lyrically, “I got the green glow under my car / I got the boom-boom system you can hear real far” is, even surrounded by the dumbness of the rest of it, very dumb. You don’t “hear something real far,” goddamn it. That’s just some words.

Lie #4: “I’ve Got a Fever, and the Only Prescription Is More Cowbell”

Sorry — a cowbell is a musical instrument, which means that the Code of Laws of the United States of America; Title 21: Food and Drugs; Chapter 13: Drug Abuse, Prevention and Control; Subchapter I: Control and Enforcement; Part C: Registration of Manufacturers, Distributors, and Dispensers of Controlled Substances; Section 829: Prescriptions doesn’t apply to it.

(Title 49: Transportation; Subtitle VII: Aviation Programs; Part A: Air Commerce and Safety; Subpart ii: Economic Regulation; Chapter 417: Operations of Carriers; Subchapter I: Requirements; Section 41724: Musical Instruments does though — it says you can take a cowbell on a plane in a special case and not get charged extra as long as it slides under the seat in front of you. It doesn’t name a cowbell, it just says “small musical instruments,” but it applies.)

So no, a physician will not prescribe you cowbell. If you used to play the cowbell and haven’t had time lately due to overwork, and are suffering from stress and anxiety, it’s not out of the question a doctor might advise that finding time to enjoy a hobby — in this case, playing a cowbell — might help. That’s advice, though, not a prescription, and it’s for stress, not a fever. 

Christopher Walken? More like Christopher Talken… Out Of His Ass! 

Lie #5: “Cabin Fever Is the Fucking Worst”

Cabin fever sucks, for sure, but it could be worse. It’s maddening and boring and nobody is having an ideal experience right now, but of all the things to be at the moment, “going a bit crazy with tedium” is fairly luxurious. Like, if being stuck at home is the worst thing currently going on, then you probably haven’t lost a loved one or had your life implode financially, in which case, while this is absolutely easier said than done, try to enjoy yourself.

Plus, you’re at home. You’re not in prison, or stuck down a Chilean mine. You’ve got all your stuff. Christ, imagine if this had happened 15 years ago, before streaming and delivery services and every fucking entertainment option in the world was just seconds away. 

Look, some people will come out of this at the other end having written novels, set up amazing projects or just generally transformed their lives for the better. There’ll absolutely be people who use this time to watch the greatest films ever made, read literary masterpieces, learn foreign languages and grow their hair out beautifully with nobody seeing the awkward in-between-y stages. 

The hell with those people. The most the vast majority can hope for is to come out with slightly tidier bedrooms, solitude-chafed but largely unscarred genitals and the ability to recite Hot Rod from memory. Parents of young children will, obviously, be irreparably mentally and emotionally damaged and hate one another, but everyone else should for the most part be fine. It might take a while to fully adjust back to normal life, but you’ll get there.

(Oh, you know what would be rough? If you hated it so much that, afterwards, you went to the least closed-in place you could find and immediately succumbed to “prairie fever,” where the desolation and nothingness of a hostile landscape make you lose your mind. Or space madness, where you go to space and become AN INSANE PERSON!)

It sucks, it fully sucks, but there’s a point to it all. You’re trying to limit the spread of a really nasty virus. If that means talking to yourself a lot, watching every Jackass movie too many times and wiping your ass with a rock, so be it. You’re saving lives.