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Acute febrile illness is the medical term used to describe a sudden fever or elevation in body temperature. This happens when the body is invaded by a pathogen and the immune system is activated to fight it off. In this lesson, learn about the symptoms and treatment options.

What Is Acute Febrile Illness?

When the body is invaded by a foreign pathogen like a virus or bacteria, the immune system kicks into gear and tries to fight the infection before it has a chance to spread. When this happens, the body’s temperature is elevated to try to kill off the pathogen, and this results in what we call a fever.

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Acute febrile illness is when a fever develops suddenly; specifically, the body temperature rises above 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit).


If you’ve ever been sick, you’ve probably experienced having a fever, and you know how hard it can be to determine the underlying cause. Acute febrile illness can occur whenever the body is invaded by some type of infectious disease, but it is especially worrisome in tropical and sub-tropical regions where serious diseases loom. These can include malaria, dengue, typhoid, chikungunya, Leptospirosis, scrub typhus, influenza, encephalitis, histoplasmosis, enteric fever, rickettsiosis, Hantavirus, and many, many others.

Specifically, the hypothalamus is the part of the brain responsible for regulating body temperature, and it may decide to elevate body temperature in response to an infection.


In addition to causing elevated body temperature, acute febrile illness can be accompanied by headaches, dizziness, sweats, chills, muscle pain, joint pain, and weakness. Sometimes it’s also affiliated with respiratory symptoms like coughing or wheezing. A fever in itself isn’t necessarily cause for alarm; however, it becomes problematic when the body temperature gets too high or lasts for an extended amount of time.

In infants or very young children, fever may be accompanied by seizures (called febrile seizures). These are generally harmless (although they can be very scary to witness), though it’s recommended to take children to the doctor the first time they experience a febrile seizure. They can be recurring, so it’s best to make sure they aren’t indicative of a more serious cause.

Treating Acute Febrile Illness

We’ve learned that there are quite a few infectious agents that can result in acute febrile illness, so this makes treating a fever difficult. It’s critical to successfully identify the underlying cause so that treatment can be targeted. This is relatively easy in countries or regions with easy access to laboratory diagnostic tests, but in many parts of the world (especially those where the more serious diseases are prevalent), these diagnostic capabilities are lacking. The World Health Organization provides lists of possible causes based on how long the person has had symptoms.

For example, if the infection is caused by some type of bacteria, an antibiotic may be administered. In cases where the cause is still unknown, it may be necessary to treat the patient by keeping them cool with damp towels or even a cool-water bath. Without identifying the causing agent, prolonged fever can lead to brain damage, organ failure, or even death.

These typically become concerns at temperatures higher than 40 degrees Celsius.

Lesson Summary

Acute febrile illness is the medical term for elevated body temperature (or a fever). This is the body’s natural reaction to invasion by an infectious disease or pathogen. Typically, acute febrile illness is characterized by a sudden rise in body temperature to levels above 37.5 degrees Celsius, and the associated symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, chills, sweats, weakness, or muscle pain.Unfortunately, there are many possible causes, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

These can include malaria, dengue, typhoid, chikungunya, Leptospirosis, scrub typhus, influenza, encephalitis, histoplasmosis, enteric fever, rickettsiosis, and Hantavirus, among others. Identifying this underlying cause is critical to successful treatment, though capabilities may be limited in underdeveloped areas.


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