Viral Fever: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment | Dettol India
Viral fever is a general term for various viral infections. Viral fever is caused by viruses, which are microscopic, infectious pathogens consisting of genetic material (DNA or RNA) wrapped in a protein coat. Once a virus has invaded the body, it uses the body’s cells to multiply. This can damage or even destroy the body’s normal cells, causing illness³. Certain types of viruses are more common in different parts of the world. Dengue Fever, for example, is most prevalent in South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific regions¹. Certain groups of people, like children and the elderly, are more susceptible to these kinds of infections, due to their weaker immune systems. Some common viral fever symptoms include burning or aching eyes, high body temperature, headaches, muscle aches, nausea, and/or vomiting.
Many illnesses or conditions can cause a fever, including a variety of viral infections. While the infection itself can be present in any part of the body, a fever is the body’s natural defence mechanism against foreign microorganisms — in this case, the virus causing the infection. An increase in core body temperature indicates that the immune system is actively working to get rid of the virus by effectively burning it². Unlike bacterial infections, a fever from a viral illness is not treatable with antibiotics, although some over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage discomfort.
Viral Fever can be classified under the following categories: Respiratory, Viral Enteritis, Exanthemata, Haemorrhagic, and Neurological⁴. The intensity of symptoms varies depending on the type of infection. Some of these viral infections require more urgent medical attention, while others usually get better with mild painkillers and rest. Every person will experience a slightly different intensity of viral fever symptoms and the duration of the illness can vary depending on the individual’s immune system, medical history, age, gender, and other related factors.
What are Viral Fever Symptoms?
So how can you tell if you actually have a viral fever and a corresponding viral infection? There are some general signs to look out for, but symptoms of viral fever (as well as the severity of symptoms) can vary depending on the specific type of infection. Sometimes, hospitalization may be necessary in order to effectively treat a more severe viral illness. Seasonal viral fever symptoms often affect the respiratory system and usually improve with home remedies and extensive rest. Respiratory viral infections may manifest as the following symptoms²:
- A fever of up to 103°F (39°C)
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Weakness or loss of energy
- Decrease in appetite
- Congestion or a runny nose
- Sinus pressure
These signs are usually consistent with a common viral infection, such as the flu, laryngitis, or other respiratory-related illness. You should start to feel better within a few days, but if symptoms persist, it is important to you seek medical attention. Sometimes, medication is needed to get rid of a virus completely.
Exanthematous viral fever presents both respiratory and skin-related symptoms. You may have this type of viral fever if any respiratory ailments are also accompanied by a rash (particularly widespread), bumps, spots, pustules, or blotches on the skin. One common example of an exanthematous viral infection is chicken pox, which gets its name from the itchy spots that appear on the skin. It’s a common childhood disease, although the vaccine has reduced its prevalence overall.⁵ A dermatological reaction is just another way that the body fights against a virus. For some people, it can be a reaction to a certain toxin in the virus, while for others, it may be a normal immune response.
Viral Enteritis is usually referred to as gastroenteritis or simply the stomach flu. It is a viral infection that affects the stomach and digestive tract. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, headache, and a mild fever. ⁶ It can affect anyone, regardless of age, but seems to be especially common in children. In adults, this illness is usually caused by norovirus, while children tend to get it from rotavirus. Gastroenteritis will typically run its course within a week, but as it’s highly contagious, it’s best to keep yourself or your child at home until it has passed.⁷
Hemorrhagic viral fever is a group of diseases that range from relatively mild to life-threatening. “Hemorrhagic” is the medical term for bleeding or symptoms related to blood. Bleeding can become dangerous quite quickly, especially if it happens internally. You may have this type of infection if you have a fever accompanied by sudden joint or muscle pain, fatigue, or dizziness. Bleeding under the skin or from the mouth, ears, and nose are symptoms of a more severe hemorrhagic viral infection.⁸ You should seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms. Ebola and Yellow Fever are well-known hemorrhagic viral diseases, which are most prevalent in Africa, Asia, and South America.
The last type of viral fever is neurological, which typically affects the central nervous system, including the brain. This makes it one of the most serious kinds of viral illnesses on this list. Meningitis and HIV fall under this category, as well as any general swelling of the brain (encephalitis) caused by a viral infection. ⁹ Symptoms to look out for are sudden loss of coordination, seizures, confusion, dizziness, and fever. This type of illness should usually be considered a medical emergency, as symptoms can get worse very quickly, putting the person at risk of permanent brain damage or even death.
What Causes Viral Fever?
Viral fever can be contracted in a number of ways such as:
- Inhaling infected droplets in the air, which can happen from being near someone who doesn’t properly cover their mouth when sneezing or coughing, or if an infected person breathes close to you.
- Exchanging body fluids with an infected person through activities like kissing, oral sex, sharing needles, or drinking from the same cup can easily cause the virus to spread to your system.
- Tainted food also puts you at risk of contracting viruses and other harmful pathogens. Food poisoning is sometimes caused by a virus (usually norovirus) in or around the food¹⁰.
In some parts of the world, mosquitoes are known to carry harmful viruses, such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, Zika, and West Nile Virus. Countries with a high poverty rate or with an insufficient number of medical facilities tend to see more cases as well as deaths related to such diseases. Malaria in particular is a large-scale problem in Africa, Asia, and other tropical places.¹¹ Mosquito-borne illnesses can cause a range of symptoms, from mild fever to more serious complications. Medication or even hospitalization is often necessary for treatment. Prevention is the best way to protect yourself. If you live in or intend to visit a region with a high prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases, it’s a good idea to have a mosquito net around your bed and take care to wear insect repellent when venturing outside¹².
What is the Treatment for Viral Fever?
Treatment of viral fever varies depending on the type of viral infection and the severity of symptoms. Respiratory infections usually clear up on their own without needing further treatment from a doctor. You can take mild pain relievers to manage fever and headaches. A hot bath or shower can help with sinus congestion. Rest and hydration are most important if you have a respiratory illness. If you experience a consistently high fever, your doctor may prescribe certain medications⁴.
Unfortunately, gastrointestinal viruses are untreatable but usually go away quickly. Sometimes the virus might only last 24-48 hours, with symptoms improving shortly after. The best thing to do is drink plenty of fluids and eat bland foods to prevent upsetting your stomach further. Go to your doctor if you have a high temperature (38°C or higher), bloody stool or vomit, or if you are unable to keep down fluids. Wash your hands regularly to prevent the spread of stomach viruses.⁷
Exanthematous viral illnesses can be managed with antiviral or fever-reducing drugs, as well as topical ointments to relieve pain or itching on the skin. If you have a viral infection that causes bleeding, you may need IV fluids and professional medical care. Bleeding can quickly become serious, so your doctor will need to figure out the underlying cause. Finally, neurological viral fever may be treated with over-the-counter medications if symptoms are mild. However, infections like meningitis always require urgent medical attention, as it can be fatal if left untreated⁹.
How is Viral Fever Diagnosed?
Often, a doctor will need to rule out bacteria before diagnosing viral fever. Bacterial and viral infections often cause very similar symptoms, but treatment is different depending on the type of pathogen causing the illness. Many bacterial illnesses can be treated with antibiotics, but this is not an effective way to treat viral infections. A blood sample can help indicate what is causing your symptoms. If the infection is in the lungs, brain, or another vital organ, a doctor might do x-rays¹³.
Prevention of Viral Fever
There are several preventive measures you can take to ensure that you don’t get a viral infection. One of the most effective ways is to get vaccinated. Nowadays, there are vaccines available for chicken pox, COVID-19, Hepatitis A & B, Influenza (the flu), Measles, Mumps & Rubella, Polio, Rotavirus, Rabies, Shingles, and Human papillomavirus (HPV). In addition to vaccines, you should practice regular hygiene, especially when handling food, to reduce the likelihood of viruses being spread from person to person. Take extra precautions against insect-borne diseases by using insect spray, mosquito netting, and wearing protective clothing. If you are sick, it’s best to avoid being around other people.
Viral infections are common and most of the time you will need nothing more than bed rest, fluids, and time to feel better. However, you should also be aware of severe symptoms that indicate the need for more serious medical intervention. By being aware of the risks, as well as effective precautions, you are less likely to get a viral infection.
- “Dengue and Severe Dengue.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dengue-and-severe-dengue
- Medanta Medical Team. “A Guide to Viral Fevers.” Medanta, Global Health Limited, 16 May 2022, https://www.medanta.org/patient-education-blog/a-guide-to-viral-fevers/ Segre, Julie. “Virus.”
- National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health (NIH), 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/Virus.
- “Types of Viral Fever – Causes & Treatments: Omni Hospitals.” OMNI Hospitals, Incor Hospitals Pvt Ltd, 30 Jan. 2023, https://omnihospitals.in/types-of-viral-fever-causes-treatments/.
- Cleveland Clinic Medical Staff. “Viral Exanthem Rash: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic, 18 Mar. 2022, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22510-viral-exanthem-rash“Understanding Viral
- Gastroenteritis.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, 19 Nov. 2019, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/understanding-viral-gastroenteritis.
- “Gastroenteritis.” NHS Inform, NHS 24, 13 Feb. 2023, https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/gastroenteritis .
- Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers: Origins, Reservoirs, Transmission and Guidelines, Gov.uk, 5 Sept. 2014. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/viral-haemorrhagic-fevers-origins-reservoirs-transmission-and-guidelines#full-publication-update-history. Accessed 27 Apr. 2023.
- “Neurological Infections.” University of Maryland Medical Centre, University of Maryland School of Medicine, https://www.umms.org/ummc/health-services/neurology/services/neurological-infections.
- “Food Poisoning.” NHS Inform, NHS 24, 22 Feb. 2023, https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/food-poisoning.
- Singh, Ritu, et al. “Fact Sheets on Vector-Borne Diseases in India.” WHO Country Office for India, 2014. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/searo/india/health-topic-pdf/vbd-fact-sheets.pdf
- “Mosquito-Borne Diseases.” Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 21 Mar. 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/outdoor/mosquito-borne/default.html.
“Viral Infection: Causes, Symptoms, Tests & Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24473-viral-infection