retarding viruses by manipulating body temperature
July 17, 2010 (as amended)
note: this is currently unfinished, thought I'd put it online RIGHT NOW though

In order to settle a debate with my housemate, whose mother is a GP (doctor), and who has been sick for three weeks with an apparent flu virus, I present the below. I seemed to become infected with a similar virus to my housemate. As it came on, I said I was going to attack it with various weapons (listed below), but my housemate scoffed at this. As I did indeed seem to cripple the virus (I still got sick, but my symptoms were mild), I thought it was worth checking the net for some science to back up my theory.

My theory is that viruses are adapted for a specific body temperature, and that this specifity is a vulnerability, which we can exploit to our advantage, by varying our body temperature. For example, the average body temperature in humans is 37° C. Therefore, human viruses must be best suited to live in a temperature of 37° C. A virus can survive in a range of temperatures (depending upon the strain), however its growth and development is retarded - suppressed - when the host's body temperature is non-optimal (either too hot or too cold). Therefore, it must follow that artificially varying the host's body temperature will artificially suppress the growth and development of the virus.

That is, if you can make your body inhospitable, the virus will die. Even if you can only make your body partially inhospitable, the virus will be impeded, and infection and symptoms less severe and shorter-lived.

Our bodies do this naturally - a "fever" is our immune system, raising our body temperature, in an effort to kill infection [citation needed]. Fischler and Reinhart [4] say that "Fever develops when cytokines increase the thermostatic set point in the hypothalamus, which in turn results in increased body temperature via increased heat production and decreased heat dissipation." Fischler and Reinhart [4] also say that "Increased body temperature has positive effects (e.g. decreased bacterial growth, stimulation of host defence mechanisms) as well as negative effects (e.g. increased heart rate, oxygen consumption and metabolism). Whether fever is a friend or foe depends on the actual clinical circumstances." This suggests that a fever can be induced by sending some cytokines to the hypothalamus - eg.. rather than all the natural remedies below, it might be possible to create a pill, which sends some cytokines to the hypothalamus, thus increasing body temperature, inducing a fever and cooking the virus. This pill would be dangerous though (an overdose could be fatal).

Artificially varying the host's body temperature will kill the host if done to excess. The trick is to alter it enough to make the virus extremely uncomfortable, but not enough to cause injury to the host. That means, do not do anything excessively. You're trying to kill the virus, not yourself.

A short list of behaviours I believe can be used to retard the flu and other viruses, by way of increasing the host body temperature outside the virus' comfort zone:

  1. Capsaicin - "the bit that burns" in chilli, peppers etc - this does not just feel hot, it induces thermogenesis [1] (hot enough to induce a sweat under your eyes, on your scalp, and at the back of your neck). This can be added to any meal in the form of hot pepper sauce.
  2. Indian takeaway - not only do curries contain Capsaicin, but many other spices also likely to have beneficial effects
  3. other takeaways - it must be very spicy - Chinese (Szechuan sauce), Thai (with Bird's Eye chillies), Italian (with Arrabbiata sauce)
  4. hot liquid of any kind (especially a hot spicy soup, which is hot liquid + Capsaicin + steam)
  5. hot food - steaming hot
  6. stimulants - coffee, tea etc (even when consumed cold) - breathe the steam coming off a hot drink for added effect
  7. steam - a hot shower, sauna, saucepan on stove - anything where hot water particles can be circulated into the respiratory system
  8. hot air - as with steam, this can circulate inside the host's respiratory system and deliver heat directly to infection sites
  9. hot water - a bath or shower
  10. a warm bed - sleep in [extra] bedclothes, put on [extra] blankets - to induce a mild sweat (a sign of raised body temperature)
  11. warm clothing - during waking hours wear an extra layer - to the point of mild discomfort (again, a mild sweat is the goal)
  12. no draughts - moving air carries away heat, the opposite of what needs to be accomplished, so avoid it

For best effect the above treatments should be liberally mixed-and-matched. Assume no pattern - you want to shake the virus, that means confusing the hell out of it - make it think it has accidentally infected a Martian, with highly variable and constantly unpleasant body conditions. Sure, it doesn't actually think anything - but that does not change the fact that it is an organism, which has evolved to expect and depend upon certain conditions in its hosts, and if those conditions are non-optimal, so too will be the success of the infection.

As you can see, many of the above treatments are home remedies that have been used for millenia. Every treatment has a common element - the raising of body temperature. However, I am currently unable to find a scientific paper which states categorically that the raising of body temperature suppresses a viral infection, or specifically suggests the deliberate raising of body temperature as a means of suppressing a viral infection.

Other notes:


See also: