Podcast: Don’t treat that fever—Dr. Paul Offit on why many of medicine’s most popular practices are ‘overkill’

, | April 13, 2020
screenshot breaking a fever treatment and causes
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Vaccine skeptics, alternative health advocates and anti-GMO activists are regularly lambasted for ignoring evidence that challenges their ideology. As it turns out, they’re not the only ones who refuse to change their minds when confronted with new data: modern medicine is often guilty of the same intellectual sin, pediatrician and vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit writes in his new book Overkill: When Modern Medicines Goes too Far.

Never afraid of controversy, Offit argues that many standard practices in modern medicine, for example treating a fever when you’re sick, are at best unhelpful and at worst actually dangerous. Enduring a fever is of course a miserable experience, but it helps our immune system fight off deadly bacterial and viral infections. Blocking this important immune response with antipyretics (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen) may lead to 40,000 additional flu-related deaths every year.

Credit: HarperCollins

A similarly contrarian case can be made for antibiotics. While clearly necessary to kill harmful bacteria, the research shows that patients often don’t need to finish an antibiotic course, and doing so encourages the spread of drug-resistant bugs and brings us closer to losing antibiotics for good. Many doctors nonetheless continue prescribing them for far longer than necessary to treat their patients.

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But that’s just the beginning, Offit claims. From heart stents and surgery for knee arthritis to prostate cancer exams, research has shown that these practices are pointless or more harmful than helpful—yet physicians and patients refuse to adjust to the evidence.

On this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies, Offit joins GLP editor Cameron English to explain why and how modern medicine continues to promote fifteen common medical interventions that “have long been considered gospel despite mounting evidence of their adverse effects.” Offit also gives his take on the coronavirus pandemic, the possibility of developing an effective immunization and how the anti-vaccine movement might react to the COVID-19 crisis.

Paul Offit is a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases and the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @DrPaulOffit

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s senior agricultural genetics and special projects editor. He is a science writer and podcast host. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

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