What is considered a fever?
Normal body temperature for kids and adults generally ranges from 97.4F to 100F, depending on the time of day (our temperature is lowest in the morning), exercise, and dress. A fever is usually considered a body temperature of at least 100.4F.
Before you panic
Climbing numbers on a thermometer can be scary for parents, but remember that a fever itself is not an illness – it’s a healthy way for the body to fight an infection. In fact, a high fever isn’t necessarily an indication of a severe underlying illness: Common cold viruses can cause a high fever, while more serious ailments sometimes do not. It’s important to note and keep track of a fever, but your doctor will be interested in your child’s other symptoms to determine how serious her condition is and whether she needs treatment.
Causes of fever
A fever is commonly caused by a viral infection, such as with colds and flu. Bacterial infections like pneumonia and urinary tract infections can also cause a fever, as can an ear infection (which is usually bacterial but can also be viral). When the body detects one of these “foreign invaders,” it releases substances called cytokines, which signal the body to warm up and fight the infection. In other words, a fever signals that your child’s immune system is doing its job.
There is a misconception that teething can cause a high temperature, but many doctors agree this is not the case. If a fever and teething occur at the same time, it’s probably a coincidence – the fever is more likely caused by a virus.
The roseola virus, most common in children under two years old, is another possible cause of fever. With this virus, a high temperature can last between three and five days, at the end of which the child develops a one-to-two day rash starting on the back or belly and spreading to the arms and face.
In rare cases, a fever may be caused by an illness such as meningitis. The classic symptoms of meningitis are a stiff neck and headache, high fever, vomiting, lack of appetite, and in some cases, a rash. But in a baby, symptoms to look for could be high fever, crying, irritability, sluggishness, vomiting, rash, a bulge in the baby’s soft spot on her head, pale or blue skin, difficulty breathing, or seizure.