Fever and Global Warming

Does fever cause global warming? Does global warming cause fever?
No, that\’s not what this post is about.

I was listening to a podcast about global warming this morning and it struck me how the debate was very similar to one that happens in the doctor\’s office.

A Parent brings her child in. It is a 3 week-old with a reported temperature of 102 degrees at home.

Doctor: \”This may seem alarmist, but it is our protocol to hospitalize all children under 1 month of age. Children this age have higher rates of meningitis and blood infections, and they don\’t show signs of the illness that older people show.\”

Parent: \”But doctor, my baby looks great. My other kids had a cold with a fever. Don\’t you think that this could just be a virus?\”

Doctor: \”Sure. I think that it is most likely that your child has a virus, but there is no way to know if it is meningitis, so we just can\’t take that kind of risk.\”

Parent: \”Don\’t you have to do a spinal tap to rule out meningitis? I don\’t want you to do a spinal tap on my baby when you think that it is most likely just a virus.\”

So, to summarize:

  • There are symptoms of a potentially serious problem
  • There is still the possibility that it is not a serious problem
  • The consequences of being wrong are severe
  • There needs to be rapid and fairly dramatic steps to assess and possibly treat the problem

I don\’t know if global warming is happening, but a lot of experts feel the signs are there. They may be wrong – and I hope they are, but if we do not work to diagnose and treat, the consequences could be horrible. Like when an infant has a fever, under-reaction is far worse than overreaction.

When one of my patients comes into my office with significant worry about a serious problem, it is my job to rule this out. If I can do it simply by taking a history and examining them, then often they are reassured. If after examining them, however, I have not reasonably ruled out the problem, it is incumbent on me to do what I can to rule this out.

If a patient is worried about a lump on their breast, and my exam does not rule out this being a malignancy, it is my job to act on it and do what is needed to determine if this lump is cancerous.

Here are the possible scenarios:

  1. I work up cancer and it comes out there was cancer present. This means she gets care sooner and has a better outcome than if I had waited.
  2. I work up cancer and it is not found. This is the best-case scenario. We want to rule it out.
  3. I don\’t work up cancer and it is not cancer. This may seem OK, but I am leaving my patient to worry and myself vulnerable to missing an important diagnosis. I am not doing my job.
  4. I don\’t work up cancer and it is cancer. This is the worst-case scenario. I have delayed diagnosis and treatment and so put the patient at a much larger risk for dying from cancer.

I am generally not political on this blog, but even those who don\’t think global warming is real should understand this parallel. Overreacting to the possibility of global warming is not nearly as big of a risk as not reacting soon enough.

As much as I hate sticking a needle in a baby\’s back when they have a virus, it is far preferable than an infant dying when I had it in my power to save them.

18 thoughts on “Fever and Global Warming”

  1. I’m tempted to come back with, “What, me worry?” 🙂
    But on a lighter note, you pose an interesting question. I personally believe that all the talk about global warming is just a lot of hot air (pun intended). However, I am fully supportive of efforts to preserve the environment such as developing new technologies that are more energy efficient and more eco-friendly.

    Unfortunately, just as with healthcare, anything the government gets involved in will be a disaster.

  2. I’m tempted to come back with, “What, me worry?” 🙂
    But on a lighter note, you pose an interesting question. I personally believe that all the talk about global warming is just a lot of hot air (pun intended). However, I am fully supportive of efforts to preserve the environment such as developing new technologies that are more energy efficient and more eco-friendly.

    Unfortunately, just as with healthcare, anything the government gets involved in will be a disaster.

  3. Five years ago I built my desk and had to choose between cider and pressure treated. On of the chemical used is arsenic and I’d read some stories about arsenic levels on/under playgrounds being higher than EPA standards for dirty site clean-ups. But there was no study showing arsenic under playgym = cancer. So I took the studies I could find to my friend who’s a Professor of Environment Studies and asked him about the quality of the data. He responded,
    “that’s the problem with you medical types. You want everything to be prospective, randomized, blinded trials. You can’t do that in environmental studies. There is no easy or ethical way to create most trials and even if you could do them there’s no turning back once complete”

    And so I got my lesson on qualitative studies. It’s the same in medical care. 99% of what we do is without hard research (even if we don’t like to admit it) but we have evidence pointing us in the right direction. I’m a huge believer in reading medical research with a skeptical eye but sometimes you have to go with you’re gut.

  4. Five years ago I built my desk and had to choose between cider and pressure treated. On of the chemical used is arsenic and I’d read some stories about arsenic levels on/under playgrounds being higher than EPA standards for dirty site clean-ups. But there was no study showing arsenic under playgym = cancer. So I took the studies I could find to my friend who’s a Professor of Environment Studies and asked him about the quality of the data. He responded,
    “that’s the problem with you medical types. You want everything to be prospective, randomized, blinded trials. You can’t do that in environmental studies. There is no easy or ethical way to create most trials and even if you could do them there’s no turning back once complete”

    And so I got my lesson on qualitative studies. It’s the same in medical care. 99% of what we do is without hard research (even if we don’t like to admit it) but we have evidence pointing us in the right direction. I’m a huge believer in reading medical research with a skeptical eye but sometimes you have to go with you’re gut.

  5. Yes, yes, and yes. The fact is that we don’t know, but this really falls under the idea of Pascal’s Wager. It’s better to be wrong believing than disbelieving.

  6. Yes, yes, and yes. The fact is that we don’t know, but this really falls under the idea of Pascal’s Wager. It’s better to be wrong believing than disbelieving.

  7. Want to worry, it has not warmed for a decade. Oops, it is now cooling.All four agencies that track Earth’s temperature (the Hadley Climate Research Unit in Britain, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the Christy group at the University of Alabama, and Remote Sensing Systems Inc in California) report that it cooled by about 0.7C in 2007. This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record and it puts us back where we were in 1930.

  8. Want to worry, it has not warmed for a decade. Oops, it is now cooling.All four agencies that track Earth’s temperature (the Hadley Climate Research Unit in Britain, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the Christy group at the University of Alabama, and Remote Sensing Systems Inc in California) report that it cooled by about 0.7C in 2007. This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record and it puts us back where we were in 1930.

  9. It’s snowing today here in Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula and South Central Alaska. Please bring back the global warming.Was this a new parent? What happened? I’m a little overly cautious myself. Our daughter just had her tonsils, adenoids taken out and tubes done, after a long bout with ear infections. Thankfully she can hear us now – something we didn’t know was a problem before. Two days after surgery she spiked a fever and I had her in to have her lungs checked out (as she sounded congested). Usually, I just listen to my gut instinct and have regretted it when I didn’t.

  10. It’s snowing today here in Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula and South Central Alaska. Please bring back the global warming.Was this a new parent? What happened? I’m a little overly cautious myself. Our daughter just had her tonsils, adenoids taken out and tubes done, after a long bout with ear infections. Thankfully she can hear us now – something we didn’t know was a problem before. Two days after surgery she spiked a fever and I had her in to have her lungs checked out (as she sounded congested). Usually, I just listen to my gut instinct and have regretted it when I didn’t.

  11. The problem is that ‘doing something’ about global warming does have serious, significant and expensive costs associated with it.
    And the science is equivocal. Even the supporters (the sainted Algore himself) don’t act like they take it seriously, what with their flying around in private jets to attend UN climate conferences, or a house that has a higher electrical bill in a month than my two houses do in a year….

    The computer models that have been used don’t accurately back-test the known climate, the computer models are all incredibly sensitive to very minor changes in input parameters, and none of them really agree with each other. Thats the kind of science that the CAM folks use.

    Not for me.

  12. The problem is that ‘doing something’ about global warming does have serious, significant and expensive costs associated with it.
    And the science is equivocal. Even the supporters (the sainted Algore himself) don’t act like they take it seriously, what with their flying around in private jets to attend UN climate conferences, or a house that has a higher electrical bill in a month than my two houses do in a year….

    The computer models that have been used don’t accurately back-test the known climate, the computer models are all incredibly sensitive to very minor changes in input parameters, and none of them really agree with each other. Thats the kind of science that the CAM folks use.

    Not for me.

  13. Fidel,I am with your reasoning. I also have the same feeling that this is a “trendy” kind of cause. Yet there are some very reasonable scientists who believe it is real and the idea of putting less CO2 in the atmosphere is a good plan even if there is no global warming. SUV’s are dumb even without global warming.

    I also agree on the hypocrisy of many famous people who talk against it. They focus on the little issues (driving a hybrid, better light bulbs) and act quite self-righteous. Yet I have to remind myself not to fall for the genetic fallacy. The rightness of a conclusion is not dependent on the reliability of the one from whom it came. Even self-righteous Hollywood idiots can get it right sometimes. My contempt for them (which we obviously share), however, should not make me jump over careful reasoning and side against them. I am very disturbed that this whole thing has taken political sides. Science should never be political.

    Again, if we err, we err with over-cautiousness, not with overconfidence.

  14. Fidel,I am with your reasoning. I also have the same feeling that this is a “trendy” kind of cause. Yet there are some very reasonable scientists who believe it is real and the idea of putting less CO2 in the atmosphere is a good plan even if there is no global warming. SUV’s are dumb even without global warming.

    I also agree on the hypocrisy of many famous people who talk against it. They focus on the little issues (driving a hybrid, better light bulbs) and act quite self-righteous. Yet I have to remind myself not to fall for the genetic fallacy. The rightness of a conclusion is not dependent on the reliability of the one from whom it came. Even self-righteous Hollywood idiots can get it right sometimes. My contempt for them (which we obviously share), however, should not make me jump over careful reasoning and side against them. I am very disturbed that this whole thing has taken political sides. Science should never be political.

    Again, if we err, we err with over-cautiousness, not with overconfidence.

  15. Amanda: The fever is only a real major concern under 3 months of age. Over that it is easier to tell if there is something serious. We make all kids under 3 mos come in for any fever. You never should apologize, however, for bringing your child in because you are worried. That is what we are there for.

  16. Amanda: The fever is only a real major concern under 3 months of age. Over that it is easier to tell if there is something serious. We make all kids under 3 mos come in for any fever. You never should apologize, however, for bringing your child in because you are worried. That is what we are there for.

Comments are closed.