Skip to Main Content

Fever is defined as a regulated rise in core body temperature. That is, as distinct from hyperthermia, it is a measured response to internal regulatory processes. Most clinicians define fever as a rectal temperature of 38°C (101.4°F) or higher. Fever is the most common cause for sick child visits to the pediatrician and emergency room. Fever is part of the body’s response to many adverse stimuli, including inflammation, infection, and malignancy, among other causes. In the pediatric age group, infection due to a virus or bacteria is the most common cause of fever. The tendency to seek medical attention for fever is very much age dependent, with younger children seeking care most often. Although part of the tendency to seek medical attention for fever rests with parental anxiety, part rests appropriately with the increased risk of serious infection associated with fever in the youngest children, neonates, as well as in special risk groups.

The physiology of temperature regulation is detailed in Chapter 121 and further information on the management of the febrile child can be found in Chapter 105.

Fever is not a diagnosis per se. Often the pediatrician’s first goal is to separate serious causes of fever from minor self-limited intercurrent illnesses. The most useful tool in the diagnosis of the etiology of fever is the clinical examination. Many months of residency and years in clinical practice hone the pediatrician’s ability to identify the truly sick or “toxic” child. Perhaps no clinical skill is more important for a pediatrician, who is often dealing with young children who are not able to communicate directly, than the ability to identify the seriously ill child. Listlessness, poor feeding, poor perfusion of the extremities, weakness, rapid pulse, or lethargy are all clues, as are the more sinister presence of cyanosis or purpura. Often the signs are subtle and the child just does “not look right.” Once the child is identified as being toxic or seriously ill, then appropriate cultures, most often including urine, blood, and CSF, as well as other laboratory tests such as a peripheral white blood cell (WBC) count with differential, electrolytes, and urinalysis, should be obtained. Some clinicians also use C-reactive protein (CRP) or procalcitonin testing to evaluate febrile children because these are selectively elevated in children with bacterial infection.5 For the truly toxic child and especially for younger children, age-appropriate antibiotics that can treat sepsis and possible meningitis should be started. In most areas of the country, this must now include coverage against resistant gram-positive organisms through the inclusion of vancomycin. For the child that is less seriously ill, a more measured clinical evaluation is warranted. Such an evaluation should include history as well a physical examination to delineate the patient’s symptoms and clinical course. Knowledge of the most common infectious etiologies in a given age group is also important. Pharyngitis, upper respiratory infection, otitis media, gastroenteritis, and bronchiolitis are all common causes of fever and can often ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.