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5 Things you never knew about children’s fevers

Fever is a defence mechanism the body uses to fight infections, and is therefore frequently associated with childhood illnesses. A body temperature that is consistently above the normal temperature range is called a fever.

1. Fever is a defence mechanism to help the body fight off bacterial or viral  infection

Infants in particular can’t tell you if they feel unwell.  Body temperature is therefore the best indication of when a baby is fighting an infection.

2. There’s no ‘normal’ body temperature

Normal temperature is usually around 37 C, but it varies from person to person.  The best way to determine your child’s individual ‘normal’ temperature is to use the thermometer when they are feeling well.  Record the temperature twice a day (early morning and late afternoon) and take the average of the two readings.   A “mild fever” (up to 39 C) is usually not harmful.  However a “high fever” (41.5 C or more) is extremely dangerous and if prolonged can trigger convulsions.

3. Temperature readings differ depending where taken

A rectal temperature reading is usually 0.5C higher, and under the arm is 0.5C lower than a temperature taken orally.

4. Fevers in childhood are common

However you should see your doctor if the fever is over 40 C, if you are concerned in any way or if the child:

  • Complains of a stiff neck, pain or hurting eyes
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Refuses to drink anything
  • Vomits a lot
  • Is drowsy
  • Has not improved over 48 hours
  • Is under the age of 3 months.

5.  Cold baths are not the best treatment for fever

Cold water does not lower a fever  – in fact it can cause the blood vessels to constrict, trapping heat.  You should dress your child in light clothing, give children’s paracetamol (in appropriate dose, every four hours) and keep fluids up with frequent drinks of cool water.

Information courtesy of the Department of Human Services Victoria.  For more information on children’s fevers or family health issues visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au.

Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your healthcare professional.