The other day I happened to pick up a patient’s chart in the hospital, and then I said excitedly to the nurse, “Good heavens! This patient must have something pretty serioushis temperature is 1051”
“Oh,” replied the nurse, “that will be down in an hour or two. That was just given to him for purposes of treatment.”
And so it is. In the old days they used to think fever was a very unfavorable symptom and tried to reduce it one way or another. Nowadays, except in very long continued fevers, we feel that it is a part of the defense reactions of nature, and one of the ways that nature uses to get the patient well.
The reason for this simply is that the ordinary temperature of the body is a very favorable temperature for the growth of most germs. However, the favorable limits are not very wide, and if they are reduced slightly, the germs stop growing, and if they are raised slightly, the germs cease part of their activities. A temperature of 103, there-fore, which is about four degrees higher than normal, is actually an extremely unfavorable temperature for the growth of many germs.
More than that, there are certain germs that are even killed off at a temperature of 104, 105 or 106, so that nowadays instead of reducing fever, we actually use it as a form of treatment.
This method was discovered when an outbreak of erysipelas occurred in an asylum, and a great many patients with paresis were completely cured after having had erysipelas. Instead of using erysipelas in the form of treatment, however, the director began to use malaria, which produces very high temperature and which can be easily controlled. They bred malaria germs in test tubes and inoculated them into patients. After several paroxysms when the temperature was raised to a high place, the malaria was killed off with quinine and the patient was no worse off.
The latest form of this treatment is to use what is known as a “hyperpyrezer,” in which diathermy, an electrical form of heat, is employed. The patient is put into a cabinet lying down, with just the head out and, as the saying goes, “The heat is turned on.” This produces temperature up to 105 and 106 for a few hours, and is just as good as a malarial chill without the trouble of infecting the patient with malaria.
The treatment is used in paresis and several forms of nervous disease. Recently it has been extended to other diseases, one being St. Vitus’ dance, “chorea.” The case which started this form of treatment was somewhat similar to the erysipelas cases just described. A child was observed at Bellevue hospital to show no improvement on the regular form of treatment for chorea, but when, from some infection, he got a temperature of 106, the chorea promptly stopped. A number of cases have been treated along these lines with what appears to be very gratifying results.
It is probable that a very considerable number of diseases may be found responsive to this treatment.