Health

When Is It OK to Stay Home From Work With a Fever?

ferris buellers day off sick from school
Ferris Bueller's Day Off | Paramount Pictures
Ferris Bueller's Day Off | Paramount Pictures

People get sick, and at some point, they can't work anymore. I know it kills you, and I know it's not a pretty thing to admit in our perfectly efficient, Ford-ian laboring society, but when you come down with something, dammit, you gotta take care of your body. Your body is all you have in this world.

One good way to gauge if it's in trouble -- and if you're too sick to come into work -- is by checking if you have a fever.

What temperature is a fever?

First things first: Check your oral temperature with a thermometer. (Internal readings are the most accurate.) If your temperature is higher than 100.4˚ F (38˚ C), congratulations, you're sick with a fever. You're also probably mostly OK. Most adults start to look and act sick if their fevers climb higher than 103˚ F (39.4˚ C). At that point, you should probably stay in bed.

Keep in mind that fevers are not actually all bad, per se...

To the ancient Greeks, the wellspring from whence modern Western medicine began, fevers were a matter of your body cooking the bad "humors" out of your body so that you could heal faster. As 17th-century British physician Thomas Sydenham wrote, "fever is a mighty engine which nature brings into the world to remove her enemies."

Modern science has largely vindicated that thinking, but don't tell your humors that. The fever itself isn't bad, especially if it doesn't climb past temperatures dangerous to your health and well-being, usually around 40° C, or 104˚ F.

Researchers like Dr. A. Sahib Mehdi El-Radhi have pointed out that the decision-making behind administering antipyretics (aka fever-reducing drugs) is often grounded in what physicians call "fever phobia" rather than science. "There is still a significant contrast between the current concept and practice, and the scientific evidence," he wrote in a 2012 paper discussing that disconnect. "The accumulated data now suggest that fever has a protective role in promoting host defence against infection, rather than being a passive by-product. A moderate fever (less than 40° C [or 104˚ F]) is beneficial."

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with this, saying fevers can help children fight off infections. 

OK, but 104˚ F still kinda sucks...

Admittedly, yes -- as do headaches, sweating, shivering, fatigue, weakness, aches, loss of appetite, and other fever symptoms you might get in addition to a high temperature. If you really want to fight off a fever and get back to work, your best courses of action are the following:

How to get rid of a fever

Drink lots and lots of fluids. And alcoholic ones don't count. You should try to drink at least a tall glass of water every couple hours when you have a fever, if not more.

Don't take medication unless you need it. That's if you're feeling really uncomfortable or in pain, or typically if your fever is higher than 103˚ F. Generally you're a better judge of that than anyone writing on the Internet will be. A few recommended fever-reducing meds include: aspirin, acetaminophen (found in Tylenol, NyQuil, and generic brands), and ibuprofen (found in Advil, Motrin, and generic brands). These are all mild pain relievers.

Call your doctor if: Your fever doesn't go down after medication, persists for longer than two or three days, or if your symptoms are accompanied by stiff neck or shortness of breath, or anything else that feels dangerous.

But honestly, killer, if you've got that full-blown 103˚ F fever...

Stay the hell at home and go the hell to sleep.

Eric Vilas-Boas has lived through many fevers where he thought he was going to die, and he hopes you can stay alive too. Follow him @e_vb_.