Don't Fear the Fever

Fever is part of the body's natural defense against infection

(RxWiki News) Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that a fever causes an illness to worsen among children. In a new article, researchers explain how parents should react if their child comes down with a fever.

Fever among children is one of those most common health issues that pediatricians treat. Parents become very concerned when their child has a fever, mainly due to the commonly held notion that abnormal body temperatures can lead to brain damage among children. Consequently, many parents give drugs used to reduce fever to their children, even when they have little or no fever.

dailyRX Insight: Fever is one way that the body fights diseases and intruders, so stopping a low-grade fever might not be a good idea. But, if a fever is high (over 100) you should try to bring down the fever.

However, according to Janice E. Sullivan, M.D., from the University of Louisville, and colleagues, fever is not the main illness when a child is sick. Rather, it is one of the body's tools in fighting infection.

As such, the authors recommend that parents focus on making their children comfortable when they have a fever, instead of trying to normalize their body temperature. They add that doctors should counsel parents on how to properly care for a child with fever. Such counseling should emphasize the general-well being of the child, the importance of monitoring activity, looking for signs of serious illness, making sure the child drinks enough fluids, and safe storage of antipyretics.

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are often used to care for children with a fever. The latest research suggests that there is no difference in safety or effectiveness of these two drugs. However, there is evidence that a combination of the two drugs is better than using one on its own. Even still, there is concern that using both acetaminophen and ibuprofen at the same time might lead to unsafe use of the drugs.

The authors conclude that pediatricians should promote patient safety by encouraging simplified drug formulations, dosing instructions, and tools for administering doses.

A normal body temperature should be 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit when taken using an oral thermometer. Body temperature will rise, however, in response to various causes including infection and illness. This is okay, as a fever is the body's way of fighting such infections and illnesses. Research suggests that a fever fights infection by making it too hot for infection-causing germs to operate at their full potential, as well as speeding up the metabolism of certain cells of the immune system.

The article by Sullivan and colleagues is published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Review Date: 
March 7, 2011