Fever

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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When should someone seek medical care for a fever?

Any child below 3 months of age who has a temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or greater should be seen by a physician. If a child or adult has a history or diagnosis of cancer, AIDS, or other serious illness, such as heart disease, diabetes, or is taking immunosuppressant drugs, medical care should be sought for a fever.

Otherwise, observe the person with the fever. If he or she appears sick or has symptoms that would suggest a major illness, such as meningitis (headache, stiff neck, confusion, problems staying awake), urinary tract infection (shaking chills, burning with urination), pneumonia (shortness of breath, cough), or any other signs of a serious illness, contact a health-care professional.

Other symptoms that may be indicative of a severe illness include repeated vomiting, severe diarrhea, or skin rashes (that could be a sign of dengue fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, strep throat, or chickenpox).

Fever blisters (herpangina) are small blisters that turn into ulcers, usually on the lips, mouth, or tongue; a virus causes fever blisters. When a child contracts this virus for the first time, the symptoms and the fever blisters can be quite severe. If the child is not eating or drinking, contact the child's pediatrician.

Women who are pregnant should contact a doctor for a fever over 101 F (38 C). A fever during pregnancy that is accompanied by a rash and joint pain could be a sign of an infection that could affect the baby. Some infections, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), can cause congenital deafness and other problems in the baby. If a pregnant woman contracts the Zika virus (also called Zika fever), it may cause a birth defect called microcephaly (small head).

On the other hand, if the fever accompanies a simple cold or virus, one can treat the fever as described above and be assured the fever is only a symptom of the illness. This is not to say one should ignore a fever. If there are other associated symptoms that are bothersome, contact a doctor.

Some vaccines given in childhood can cause a low-grade fever within a day or two of getting the injection. This fever is usually self-limited and short-lived. If the reaction seems severe or the skin at the injection site is red, hot, and painful, contact the child's doctor.

A low percentage of all children between 18 months to 3 years of age will have a seizure (convulsion) with a high fever. Of those with a history of febrile seizure, some will have another seizure associated with another febrile (fever) episode. Febrile seizures, while frightening to the parents, are not associated with long-term nervous-system complications. Children used to be prescribed the antiseizure drug phenobarbital (Solfoton, Luminal) following a febrile seizure as a preventive measure (prophylaxis). This has not been shown to be beneficial and possibly may be harmful, so it is not recommended.

Recurrent fever in children (three or more episodes of fever in a six-month period, with no apparent causative illness) can be a symptom of a few different illnesses, such as PFAPA (periodic fever, aphthous ulcers, pharyngitis, and adenopathy) syndrome, cyclic neutropenia, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, and others. See your child's pediatrician if fevers are recurrent.

Recurrent fever in adults may accompany immune-deficient fever of unknown origin (FUO), also known as neutropenic FUO, and HIV-associated FUO, as well as many other infectious conditions. Adults should see their doctors if they develop recurrent fever.

What kind of doctors treat a fever?

Any kind of doctor is able to treat a fever, but most likely when you have a fever you will see your family medicine specialist (also called a general practitioner) or internist, and your child will see a pediatrician. You may see an emergency-medicine specialist in an emergency department.

If fever is due to a specific underlying or recurrent medical condition, you may see a specialist for that particular condition. For example, if a person has cancer and a fever, an oncologist may be consulted. A pregnant woman with a fever may see her obstetrician. Newborns with fever may see neonatal specialists. Patients with HIV/AIDS and fever may consult an infectious-disease specialist.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/4/2016

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