Fever is an increased body temperature above the normal level of about
98.6° Fahrenheit or 37° Celsius. Fever usually indicates an infection
but may also occur in other disorders, such as some types of cancer or arthritis.
Fever in infants (babies younger than 1 year old), especially those younger
than 3 months, can signal a serious infection. Such young infants who have
fever should be seen by a doctor to determine the cause and treat it. The
March 10, 2004, issue of JAMA includes an article
about fever in early infancy.
• Use a rectal thermometer with the bulb end coated with petroleum
• Insert it one inch into your baby's rectum while the baby rests
on his or her stomach (on your lap or on a changing table).
• Do not let go of the thermometer because if the baby moves, the
thermometer can move also and possibly injure the baby. Proper use of a rectal
thermometer will not harm your baby.
• Leave the thermometer in place for 2 minutes, remove it, and
• If it is impossible to use a rectal thermometer, an axillary
(armpit) temperature can be taken. Usually axillary temperatures are one full
degree less than rectal temperatures.
Keep the room temperature comfortable and dress your infant in loose,
lightweight clothing. Do not wrap the baby tightly in blankets. Provide plenty
of fluid for the baby to drink. If the fever is high or the infant appears
uncomfortable, you may sponge the baby with tepid water (barely warm to the
back of your wrist). Do not use alcohol to sponge him or her because it can
be absorbed through the skin and cause harm. Antipyretic (fever-lowering)
medications, such as acetaminophen, may be given on the advice of your doctor.
Do not give aspirin to lower a child's fever because aspirin may be associated
with development of Reye syndrome, a potentially fatal medical problem.
Fever in an infant younger than 3 months
High fever (greater than 101° Fahrenheit or 38.3° Celsius)
Fever associated with abnormal drowsiness, a stiff neck, or the
child appearing severely ill—this may signal meningitis, a serious infection
of the covering of the brain and spinal cord
Fever with drooling or difficulty breathing—this may indicate
epiglottitis, a serious infection of the back of the throat
Fever with a seizure
About 4% of children younger than 5 years experience a seizure (convulsion)
while they have a fever. These are called febrile seizures. Usually they are
harmless to the child, with no lasting effects, but should be evaluated by
a physician. These seizures are not considered epilepsy (recurrent seizures
that occur without a fever).
American Academy of Pediatricshttp://www.aap.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com.
Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on meningitis
in children was published in the April 28, 1999, issue.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family
Physicians, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and
recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA
suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share
with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval.
To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
TOPIC: CHILDHOOD DISEASES
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Fever in Infants. JAMA. 2004;291(10):1284. doi:10.1001/jama.291.10.1284