History of Fever

  • A. Sahib El-Radhi


Fever, as the most ancient hallmark of disease, dates back as far as civilization itself. The oldest civilizations (Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Chinese, Indian and Greek) demonstrated extensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology. The ancient Egyptians recognized that local inflammation was responsible for fever and that the pulse underwent acceleration during physical exercise and fever. The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus lists 48 medical cases. Local inflammation was differentiated from general fever, the latter usually meaning high fever. However, these ancient civilizations tended to view fever as being induced by evil spirits. Many ancient physicians, fostered mainly by the Greeks, believed in the beneficial effects of fever (ancient concepts). Following ancient civilizations, the chapter describes the role of fever in the holy books. Magic, incantation and mystics appear to be less significant than in other cultures. Certainly, the biblical record contains no indication that fever was caused by demons or evil spirits. In the Old Testament, fever was part of God’s punishment for sins. By the eighteenth century, fever was thought to be “a harmful by-product of infection”. In the sixteenth century, medicine achieved an important milestone with the invention of a means to measure body temperature when Galileo (1564–1642) reinvented the thermoscope. Galileo’s thermoscope (1592) was an air-filled bulb with an open-ended stem inverted over a container of water. Thermal graduation to the thermoscope was added, thereby producing the first thermometer. Temperature was measured by allowing the individual to grasp the bulb of the thermometer. The rate of subsequent fluid fall was used as an indicator of body temperature.

During the seventeenth century, fevers were classified as continued (such as typhus), intermittent (such as malaria) or eruptive (such as smallpox). The most prevalent febrile disease in England at this time was malaria. Over a century ago, antipyretics were introduced, and their extensive use has since then been considered beneficial. Over the past 40–50 years, intensive research has been carried out to investigate the role of fever. Although there is still disagreement, evidence now indicates that the effects of fever are overall beneficial.


Fever in ancient civilizations European medicine Recent concepts 


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Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Sahib El-Radhi
    • 1
  1. 1.Chelsfield Park HospitalOrpingtonUK

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