Fevers and your baby

Fever is a common childhood illness accounting for almost 20% of the paediatric presentations to local Emergency Departments (ED). A recent study (Feb 2019), of almost two thousand children who presented with fever to an ED, found that most cases were not urgent (68%), 53% were aged between 13 – 24 months, and the months of June, July and August are the worst time of year. When interviewed, many parents chose to take their babies and toddlers to hospital out of concern that any fever may escalate to the more severe complications of fever such as seizures, brain damage or death (rare).

The following table, taken from the recent study, lists the breakdown of diagnosis for each child who had presented with a fever.

What does all of this mean for the worried parent who is sitting at home alone with a sickly child at 2 a.m.?

The first thing to say is that our bodies will naturally produce a mild fever as a defence which kills foreign bacteria and, in most cases, it does the job wonderfully. The best thing that you can do is to keep monitoring the baby’s temperature every 30 minutes. If your baby does not improve you can:

  • use medicines as recommended by your GP (i.e. Panadol or Nurofen);
  • keep the room cool by opening windows or using fans;
  • keep wiping their body down with a cool cloth;
  • hop into a tepid shower with your little one and let the cool water run over them; and
  • keep the fluids up to them because a dry nappy is a serious sign of dehydration.

The Journal of Nursing Research and Practice states that “Fever is an increase in body temperature to a level that is above normal. Normal body temperature is 37°C and one or more degree above this level is considered as a fever. However, body temperature varies between people and throughout the day. Circadian cycles influence the body temperature where it is lowest in the morning and rises to a maximum in the evening. This change of temperature is linked with the sleep wake cycle of an individual, and the range over which it fluctuates is normally 1.3°C in adults. Fever does not constitute a serious sign or symptom unless it rises to a significant level and remains persistently high. If a rectal measurement determines a temperature of 41.6°C or 107°F, then it is important to seek treatment and care. A temperature above 41.6°C may cause serious complications such as cardiac issues, dehydration, stroke, seizures, and sometimes death. Fever may occur as a defensive response to pathogens. These pathogens may not survive at a higher temperature and therefore they are killed or restricted from growth through an increase in body temperature. External pyrogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungal or parasitic infections are common causes of fever in children. Common conditions caused by bacterial infections that result in a fever are meningitis, occult bacteraemia, urinary tract infections (UTI), acute otitis media, pneumonia, gastroenteritis, and upper and lower respiratory tract infections.

It is a tremendous help for Paramedics attending your home if you can do up a simple observation chart in the bedroom of each child – like they do in hospitals. This sort of information is extremely valuable in an emergency as you can often forget this level of detail. If you are taking your baby to the hospital you can take a quick photo to show the Nurses and Doctors. It is also a very helpful guide for someone who may be babysitting. You can do up your own version however some people have found the attached template helpful to print off and laminate. That way you can update it each month as your baby grows.