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Children Under Stress Develop More Fevers

Children whose parents and families are under ongoing stress have more fevers with illness than other children. The study also shows// that children’s natural killer cell function, part of the body’s innate immune system, increases under chronic stress, unlike adults, whose function is decreased.

"These findings are somewhat surprising to me but also exciting because they show us possible new avenues for improving children’s health," said Mary Caserta, M.D., principal investigator of the study and associate professor of Pediatrics in the division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "I figured families under stress might think their children were sick more often when they actually weren’t, but fevers are not subjective. These kids living with chronic stress in their families really were sick more often."

While an illness with a fever isn’t necessarily any worse than an illness without one, it does point to an objective sign of illness, often an infection, Caserta said. This suggests an association between family stress and susceptibility to infectious diseases.

Caserta undertook the study with collaborator Peter Wyman, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester. Wyman, who designed one of the stress surveys used in this study, has led other studies of urban families and their children under stress and his research has shown links between chronic parent stress and children’s emotional well-being. This new study is innovative because it links stress to objective health and biological indicators of immune function. The study is one of the few that have examined the effects of stress on children’s immune function.

One of the more surprising findings of the study is that children’s natural killer cell function increases under chronic stress. Previous research with mostly older adults has shown that chronic stress decreases their natural killer cell func
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