• U.S.

Medicine: Pure Fever

3 minute read

Doctors have had great difficulty in analyzing the chemical changes which occur in patients who run temperatures as the result of diseases such as measles, diphtheria, influenza, tuberculosis, dysentery. Last fortnight young Dr. Ella Harriet Fishberg of Manhattan’s Beth Israel Hospital reported on pure fever uncomplicated by germs, viruses or poisons.

The fundamental effect of fever, Dr. Fishberg found, is alkalosis, caused by loss of acidic substances (chloride, lactic acid, carbon dioxide) from the body. The acid loss occurs through the skin and lungs as the body automatically struggles to cool off to normal temperature. During a five-hour bout with fever of 106° F., Dr. Fishberg’s patients sweated out as much as five quarts of water, one-half ounce of salt, one-third ounce of lactic acid. Due to such acid content of sweat, athletes often complain of “stinging sweat.” Because excess salt is shed through the skin, the body cannot supply normal amounts to the stomach, where in the form of hydrochloric acid it is needed for digestion. Nor can the kidneys filter from the blood an adequate amount of salt for the urine. As a result the urine is painfully alkaline.

Loss of carbon dioxide occurs through the lungs. Carbon dioxide is both a product of breathing and a necessary stimulant which the lungs need to keep functioning. Because of this shortage, the lungs function inadequately, the patient pants, gasps, loses his breath. For lack of carbon dioxide in the lungs the red blood cells in the arteries and veins hold back their oxygen thus causing air hunger throughout the tissues.

Dr. Fishberg, who does not know how to bake potatoes in her kitchen stove, learned the particular symptoms of fever by baking healthy human beings at a temperature of 106° F. She used one of the big radiothermic ovens which General Electric’s Dr. Willis Rodney Whitney designed and loaned to a few U. S. hospitals for the heat treatment of syphilis and gonorrhea (TIME, April 22, et ante). For proof that her test subjects develop pure fevers and nothing else, Dr. Fishberg usually heats them until fever blisters form on their lips. As demonstration of how to offset the specific effects of fever in sick patients, Dr. Fishberg brings her test subjects back to normal by giving them a weak solution of common salt to drink and causing them to inhale a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

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