No, Premier Smith: Fever Isn’t Dangerous

J. Edward Les, MD
6 min readDec 8, 2022

Fever is our friend, not our foe.

I have some sympathy for Premier Danielle Smith.

I can only imagine how difficult it is to be the leader of a whole province. She has to preside over a host of hugely important files: energy, transportation, finance, health, social services, justice, and so. And to manage it all competently requires vast truckloads of knowledge — all stuffed into one solitary brain.

I wouldn’t be able to pull it off, frankly. I’m not much older than the premier, but I can barely remember what I had for breakfast — and that was only ten minutes ago. Or maybe it was supper. Whatever: my point is that given the immensity and complexity of her job, it’s understandable that the premier might get a few things wrong here and there.

Take as example this statement at yesterday’s press conference, at which she announced the procurement of five million bottles of children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen to replenish empty pharmacy shelves:

“Fever is scary for parents. If a child becomes feverish and dehydrated . . . it can lead to seizures in younger children, and it can be really serious.”

I’ve been working in pediatric emergency medicine for twenty years. Take it from me, Premier: Fever isn’t dangerous: never has been, never will be.

Ms. Smith is correct in stating that “fever is scary for parents”. But it’s not scary for doctors; and as a pediatrician I spend a sizeable chunk of my professional time explaining that to parents. (If I had a nickel for every minute I’ve spent counselling parents on fever, I’d be richer than Elon Musk.)

In the context of infection, fever is simply the immune system’s response to that infection. Viruses and bacteria don’t like it hot — they can’t survive and thrive as well at higher temperatures. So the immune system, via a region of the brain called the hypothalamus, dials up the temperature as part of its military campaign to eliminate those unwelcome invaders.

The notion that a fever can be “too high” is a myth practically baked into modern-day public consciousness . But that notion is false. Fevers with infections are never too high — and they never cause brain damage or any other sort of bodily catastrophe.

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J. Edward Les, MD

Pediatric emergency physician. Former veterinarian. Father. Writer. Cancer survivor.