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Managing fever in children – when to worry? • The Medical RepublicThe Medical Republic

Fever is among the commonest reasons children are introduced to medical attention.1,2 Mother and father anticipate a radical examination of, and analysis for, a toddler with fever.three

We’ll concentrate here on acute fever and common or controversial issues and only briefly point out prolonged or recurrent fevers. We won’t cowl children with specific continual illnesses, reminiscent of immunosuppression. We can’t write another fever guideline here, but we’ll use The Nationwide Institute for Well being and Medical Excellence (NICE) guidelines4,5 as our framework.


Fever is an elevation of body temperature that exceeds the traditional every day variation.6 There is a diurnal variation in body temperature with a peak in the early evening and a  nadir in the morning. Fever might be outlined as a rectal temperature that is  ?38°C.7

Typically mother and father are apprehensive their youngster might get mind injury from the fever.

Physique temperature is regulated by thermosensitive neurons situated in the anterior hypothalamus. Fever happens in conjunction with a rise in the hypothalamic set point, most commonly due to pyrogens. Pyrogens are both endogenous (including interleukins and interferons) or exogenous, (mainly infectious brokers), which stimulate production of endogenous pyrogens.

In distinction, hyperthermia, otherwise referred to as heat stroke, refers to an uncontrolled improve in temperature that exceeds the body’s capacity to lose warmth. In contrast to fever, in hyperthermia there isn’t any change in the hypothalamic set point and no involvement of pyrogens. For a child with fever (as opposed to hyperthermia) there isn’t any evidence of danger of brain injury.6,Eight


The key question is “How was the temperature measured?” There are totally different suggestions from totally different authorities. We’ve got subsequently  summarised two key references:

The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne recommends:

• Infants < three months previous: axillary temperature (positioned over the axillary artery for 3 minutes)

• Children > three months of age: tympanic temperature (retract the pinna to straighten the external auditory meatus and direct the instrument on the tympanic membrane)9

NICE recommends:

• Infants < four weeks: axillary digital thermometer.

• Children > four weeks: options embrace either axillary or an infra-red tympanic thermometer.Four

RCH Melbourne also recommends contemplating a rectal temperature in neonates if the axillary temperature is elevated;9 we might not advocate this in main care. NICE additionally recommends using an axillary chemical dot thermometer over the age of four weeks,Four but this system shouldn’t be commonly used regionally in our experience.


The question for the clinician is: “Can the height of body temperature in a young child with fever be used to predict the risk of serious illness or mortality?” It isn’t simple.

NICE recommends that:

• The peak of body temperature alone shouldn’t be used to determine children with critical illness.

Nevertheless, these children ought to be recognised as being in a high-risk group for critical illness:

Children younger than three months with a temperature of 38°C or greater
Children aged three to six months with a temperature of 38°C or larger


This may be sub-classified into:

1. “Fever without localising signs” or fever with no source (more widespread); and

2. “Fever of unknown origin”


1. How unwell is the kid clinically?

2. Are there danger elements for a critical aetiology?

3. Is there a recognisable supply?

In apply, questions one and two run together. Even if we will determine a supply of fever, we must still contemplate each the potential of a critical aetiology and any systemic results of the an infection. In any case, viral bronchiolitis and gastroenteritis are frequent causes for infants to current to Emergency Departments in Australia.10

The NICE tips classify children into intermediate and excessive danger of great sickness and supply an strategy for the “paediatric specialist” and for the “non-paediatric practitioner.” We recognise the significant paediatric expertise of GPs in Australia and that some practitioners are based mostly in regional and remote areas. Subsequently, whereas concentrating on evaluation in common follow, we do summarise an strategy by hospital-based emergency and paediatric acute care clinicians.


The NICE tips advocate:

Administration by the “non-paediatric practitioner”

If a toddler has no clear analysis however has “amber” options, carers should receive recommendation on warning indicators and whereas NICE features a medical evaluation as an choice, we might strongly advocate medical follow-up. NICE also provides the choice of referral to emergency paediatric providers, and if there’s any doubt then we would definitely help this.5

Administration by the “paediatric specialist”

Infants < three months with fever must be observed and have heart fee, respiratory price and temperature measured.

Children with fever without an obvious source with a number of “red” options should have blood and urine testing at a minimal.5

What do we expect?

General we like this strategy, however would add these points we have now found helpful in our experience.

1. Neonates (lower than one month of age corrected) with a fever of ? 38oC all require pressing referral to hospital for investigations and empirical intravenous antibiotics.Four

2. In a big Australian research in a tertiary children’s ED, the NICE visitors mild system failed to determine a considerable proportion of great bacterial infections, notably urinary tract infections. The addition of urine evaluation significantly improved check sensitivity, making the visitors mild system a more useful triage device for the detection of great bacterial infections in younger febrile children.11 We’ll cover UTIs in extra detail under.

three. Professional opinion recommends that heart fee is probably an necessary indication of great illness, particularly septic shock.4

4. Parental concern should all the time be taken critically.12

For the overall practitioner, this organised follow-up might embrace an knowledgeable discussion with the carer relating to purple flags and the necessity to present to ED if purple flags are famous earlier than a scheduled evaluate.

For a proportion of patients there will exist sufficient doubt after assessment by the practitioner as to whether the carer is able to absolutely comprehending explanations or following by means of directions even with written factsheets; one example of which is at

For some patients there’s sufficient doubt based mostly on a mixture of warning indicators. Our suggestion is to have a low threshold to refer these children to ED after also weighing up the social impression of ED presentation on the household.

“Just monitoring” with the passage of time in the ED or a brief admission for remark – each of which we regard as in reality monitoring for the event of pink flags – is usually the safest strategy. We know that the majority children with fever with out supply could have a self-limiting illness however there isn’t a gold commonplace to differentiate these with a critical bacterial sickness from these with “just a virus”.


Aside from the options talked about in Table 2 (See Web page 28) we might add the following: a excessive index of suspicion is required for Kawasaki disease, immediate referral to a paediatric facility is required with well timed administration of intravenous immunoglobulin to lower the danger of coronary artery aneurysms.14 Also absence of neck stiffness and/or a traditional anterior fontanelle do not exclude bacterial meningitis in younger children.15


Desk 2 will give clues, however a UTI, pneumonia and bacteraemia are in all probability the most typical critical bacterial sicknesses in young children with fever.4,11,16

Does the child need a urine pattern?

NICE recommends any youngster with an unexplained fever of 38°C or larger should have a urine sample examined within 24 hours.17

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in its tips on UTI in infants aged two to 24 months has a unique strategy. For an toddler with fever without source who isn’t assessed as presently unwell enough to require IV antibiotics, the AAP recommends a stratified strategy, relying on the clinician’s assessment of the pre-test chance of a UTI:

• No urine testing; or

• Acquire a urine specimen by way of catheterisation or suprapubic aspiration (SPA) for tradition and urinalysis; or

•   Dipstick testing on a urine specimen by way of the “most convenient means” and to carry out a urinalysis or microscopy, if both is suggestive of an UTI then acquire a clear urine pattern.18

Can’t I just use a bag to get the urine pattern?

NICE recommends a clear catch urine sample as the beneficial technique for urine assortment, and if this is not potential then to use urine collection pads.17 Nevertheless in our expertise, urine collection pads aren’t generally used right here. Subsequently the subsequent step can be to get hold of urine by catheterisation or SPA, the latter preceded by ultrasound to exhibit the presence of urine in the bladder.17

Maybe not surprisingly, the AAP differs and recommends urine be obtained by way of catheterisation or SPA.18

Each NICE and the AAP notice that contamination is an issue when accumulating urine using luggage.17,18 Moreover, dipstick testing is unreliable in children beneath the age of two.17

Acquiring a clear catch urine sample isn’t straightforward in the ED, both due to the time taken and depending on who caught the sample – how “clean” was the catch (for instance was the penis mendacity in the container or the container pressed up towards the perineum?) and this process is clearly much more troublesome in common apply.

Most infants who require a catheter or SPA urine pattern will need to be referred to hospital. Our suggestion is that whatever one’s strategy, a clear (a minimum of a non-bag) urine sample is required earlier than commencing antibiotics (which could possibly be ceased if the culture comes again destructive).


Studies and a meta-analysis have reported a rise in temperature for teething however not frequent or vital sufficient a rise to be characterised as fever.19-25 So in a nutshell, teething should not be thought-about the only focus of any reported fever.


The commonest forms of most cancers in childhood embrace:

• Leukaemia

• Central nervous system tumours

• Lymphomas

• Neuroblastoma26

In children, early signs of childhood malignancies may be non-specific and mimic benign processes, so a excessive degree of suspicion is required. Fever (due to the disease process itself or febrile neutropenia) may be one of many presenting options notably in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is the most typical childhood most cancers.26,27

The Most cancers Council recommends contemplating malignancy in a toddler who has persistent, unexplained fever, apathy, straightforward bruising, bone ache or weight loss after exclusion of circumstances corresponding to UTI, pneumonia or bowel-related circumstances (i.e. inflammatory bowel illness).26


The response, or lack thereof, to antipyretic remedy, is just not useful in predicting if a toddler has a bacterial sickness.28,29

Should I advise combining or alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen – or monotherapy?

The outcomes from a Cochrane evaluation are exhausting to put into apply, but we have now included a abstract because fever phobia is a real situation.5,30,31

The reviewers found “moderate quality evidence” that if one combines paracetamol or ibuprofen, slightly than giving either singly, this strategy can:

• End result in a decrease imply temperature one hour later.

• In all probability end result in a lower mean temperature at four hours if no additional antipyretics are given.

• End result in fewer children remaining or turning into febrile for a minimum of 4 hours.

This assessment additionally found that low quality proof that alternating remedy might end result in:

• A decrease mean temperature at one hour after the extra dose.

• Fewer children remaining or turning into febrile for up to three hours.

There was “very low quality evidence” that combining and alternating therapies have the same results on fever up to six hours. Whereas there were no opposed effects reported, the report’s authors advised the necessity for further analysis on the security of those alternating and mixed regimens.32

We  would advocate the NICE tips shown in the box above.

Does decreasing fever make the kid really feel better (or at the very least, make the mother or father feel the child feels better)?

It has been instructed that paediatricians deal with fever in children partly based mostly on the peak of the fever, but in addition due to the perception that it will decrease discomfort with “… improvements in activity and feeding and less irritability, and a more reliable sense of the child’s overall clinical condition.”Eight

Definitely defervescence might lead to an improvement in capillary refill and tachycardia, which mixed with the beforehand mentioned advantages, might affect assessment and administration. The above Cochrane evaluate discovered just one research that assessed discomfort in which there was no difference between combination and alternating remedy.32

In summary, our impression is that paediatricians (and paediatric nurses) really feel that decreasing fever, as defined above, might enhance a toddler’s comfort though there’s scant evidence to help this.

Does treating the fever forestall my youngster from having a febrile seizure?

Briefly: No. A 2017 Cochrane evaluate of prophylactic medicine for febrile seizures found that:

“No benefit was demonstrated for phenytoin, valproate, pyridoxine, intermittent phenobarbitone or antipyretics in the form of intermittent ibuprofen, acetaminophen or diclofenac in the management of febrile seizures.”33


Infants aged beneath three months with fever are usually at a better danger of great illness in contrast to older infants and children. These infants should all have bloods, (full blood rely, blood cultures and C-reactive protein), urine testing, CXR if respiratory signs are current.

All infants younger than one month, and those aged one to three months who’re assessed as unwell ought to have a lumbar puncture.Four


To start out to make a differential analysis one must categorise or define the pattern of fever. We like this strategy from a 2005 paper (although we might use 38°C somewhat than 38.3°C because the cutoff). Most of those children require referral to paediatric providers.

Extended fever

A single illness in which period of fever exceeds that anticipated for the medical analysis… or a single sickness in which fever was an initial main symptom and subsequently is low grade or solely a perceived drawback.

A single illness of at the very least three weeks’ period in which fever > 38.3oC is present on most days, and analysis is uncertain after one week of intense analysis.

Recurrent fever

A single illness in which fever and other indicators and symptoms wane and wax (typically in relationship to discontinuation of antimicrobial therapy),

or repeated unrelated febrile infections of the same organ system or a number of sicknesses occurring at irregular intervals, involving totally different organ methods in which fever is one variable element.

Periodic fever

Recurring episodes of sickness for which fever is the (principal) function…associated symptoms are comparable and predictable, and period is days to weeks, with intervening (durations) of weeks to months of… (being completely properly)34

These classes in themselves require a protracted dialogue.

differential analysis

The differential analysis of prolonged fevers is in depth and consists of:

• Viral infections corresponding to EBV or CMV.

• “Standard” bacterial sicknesses resembling a UTI.

• Extra exotic infections corresponding to typhoid fever and tuberculosis.

• Malignancy.

• Autoimmune and auto-inflammatory processes comparable to Kawasaki disease, inflammatory bowel disease, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus.35

Similarly the differential analysis of recurrent or periodic fevers can also be in depth.

Our suggestion for main care suppliers can be to promptly search paediatric enter for any baby with:

• Fever for five days;

• Recurrent fever with any concern a few immunodeficiency (a superb resource is obtainable online from RCH Melbourne; (

• Recurrent fever with any concern about an underlying continual disease (infectious or otherwise);

• Suspected periodic fever.


There isn’t a gold normal for differentiating a toddler with a bacterial course of from a viral one. Bear in mind the age of the child and different danger elements for a critical illness, assess how the kid is systemically, contemplate UTI in a toddler with a fever with no supply.

Refer children underneath one month of age corrected, these with pink flags, or these in whom one can’t exclude a bacterial illness and follow-up shall be after too long a time or adherence is questionable.

Additionally refer children with extended or periodic fever, and contemplate whether to refer children with recurrent fever.

Dr Stephen Sze Shing Teo is employees specialist paediatrician, Blacktown and Mount Druitt Hospitals in NSW, and senior lecturer, paediatrics, Western Sydney University

Nicola McKay is paediatric medical nurse advisor, Blacktown and Mount Druitt Hospitals, Western Sydney Native Well being District


We thank Dr Shane Carlisle for his extremely helpful feedback in the writing of this article


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