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Fever, Age 3 and Younger - Topic Overview

Fever is the body's normal and healthy reaction to infection and other illnesses, both minor and serious. Fevers help the body fight infection. Fever is a symptom, not a disease. In most cases, fever means your child has a minor illness. Often you must look at your child's other symptoms to determine how serious the illness is. Although it may be scary when your child's temperature goes up, fever is not harmful.

The average normal body temperature is about 98.6°F (37°C). It usually rises during the day from a low of 97.4°F (36.3°C) in the morning to a high of 99.6°F (37.6°C) in the late afternoon. Each child has a normal temperature range that may be different from another child's. Mild increases to 100.4°F (38°C) can be caused by exercising, wearing too many clothes, taking a hot bath, or being outside in hot weather.

Temperature varies depending on how you take it. The most common ways to measure it are:

You can also use:

  • Forehead thermometers.
  • Pacifier thermometers.

Some methods may not be as reliable or accurate as others. For information about taking accurate temperatures, see the topic Body Temperature.

If you think your child has a fever but you are not able to measure his or her temperature, it is important to look for other symptoms of illness.

Children tend to run higher fevers than adults. The degree of fever may not indicate how serious your child's illness is. With a minor illness, such as a cold, a child may have a temperature of 104°F (40°C), while a very serious infection may not cause a fever or may cause only a mild fever. With many illnesses, a fever temperature can go up and down very quickly and often, so be sure to look for other symptoms along with the fever.

Babies with a fever often have an infection caused by a virus, such as a cold or the flu. Infections caused by bacteria, such as a urinary infection or bacterial pneumonia, also can cause a fever. Babies younger than 3 months should be seen by a doctor anytime they have a fever because they can get extremely sick quickly.

A fever in a healthy child is usually not dangerous, especially if the child does not have other symptoms and the fever goes away in 3 to 4 days. Most children who have a fever will be fussy and play less and may not eat as much as usual.

High fevers may make your child uncomfortable, but they rarely cause serious problems. There is no medical evidence that fevers from infection cause brain damage. The body limits a fever caused by infection from rising above 106°F (41.1°C). But outside heat—such as from being in a car that is parked in the sun—can cause body temperature to rise above 107°F (41.7°C), and brain damage can occur.

Childhood immunizations can reduce the risk for fever-related illnesses, such as Haemophilus influenzae type bHaemophilus influenzae (Hib) infection. Although no vaccine is 100% effective, most routine childhood immunizations are effective for 85% to 95% of the children who receive them. For more information, see the topic Immunizations.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 07, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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