Painkillers help spread flu

The worst part of the flu isn't always the coughing, sneezing or wheezing. It's not the fever, and it's not the congestion.

No, for many people the worst part is the pain -- the all-over, body-shaking, muscle-aching misery that hurts in places you didn't even know you had.

So it's only natural that people with the flu often reach for painkillers.

But new research shows that while painkillers might give you a little bit of relief from the aches, they can actually help the virus to get stronger and spread more easily.

It's like chicken soup for the flu virus.

What makes this especially dangerous is that those painkillers might help you to feel just well enough to go back to work, where the newly charged (and rapidly multiplying) virus could jump to others and make them sick, too.

As a result, the study finds that painkillers alone could be responsible for as much as 5 percent of all flu transmission. In a bad year, that could mean up to 2,000 flu deaths caused by viruses that have been strengthened and passed around thanks to painkillers.

The one downside to the study is that it was based on ferrets, then a mathematical model was applied to estimate the effect among humans.

But I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand, because there's a very simple and basic biological explanation for how these drugs help the flu virus: Painkillers reduce fever.

I know many people believe reducing a fever is a good thing, but in most cases it's not.

A fever is actually the best weapon you have against viral illness (and not just flu).

Because many viruses thrive at normal human body temperature, your body was designed to turn up the heat when you get sick. You get warm... maybe even a little uncomfortable... but in most cases, the viruses die and your body temperature returns to normal.

That's why reducing fever could actually prolong the misery of viral illnesses such as flu and even help the virus to grow and spread.

But that doesn't mean you have to be miserable when you get the flu. There are natural ways to avoid the illness, and safe ways to fight back if you do get sick -- and I had the full scoop in the December 2012 edition of my subscription newsletter, Health Revelations.

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