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When baby has a fever

Published:Wednesday | May 2, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Dr Lisa N.C. Franklin-Banton

Some parents panic once they realise that their child is having a fever. Although this is understandable, there is usually no reason to panic.

Fever occurs when the body's internal 'thermostat' raises the body temperature above its normal limits. In most instances, the upper limit of normal is 37.7 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit).

Fever can, however, cause your child to be uncomfortable. It may make his or her heart beat faster, cause him or her to breathe faster, and increase the amount of fluids he or she needs.

Possible causes

Some possible causes of fever include:

1. Infection: Most fevers are caused by germs. The presence of fever is a sign that the body is trying to fight these germs.

2. Overdressing: Infants, especially newborns, may get fevers if they are wrapped too much. This occurs as they are unable to control their body temperature.

3. Immunisation: Fever may occur after receiving vaccines. In some instances, this may occur as long as a week after receiving the vaccine.

Parents tend to add teething to that list. Most experts will tell you that teething may cause a slight increase in temperature. However, it is unlikely to be the cause of temperatures greater than 37.7 degrees Celsius.

Most times, there is no need to panic once you realise that your child is having a fever. If your child is younger than three months, however, you should talk to your doctor immediately. In older children, watching how they behave can help you to decide whether this is a major or minor illness.

You should consult your doctor if your child has any of the following: increased fussiness, difficulty staying awake, an abnormal rash, fever lasting more than 72 hours in an older child and more than 24 hours in a child less than two years, difficulty breathing, a chronic illness, e.g. sickle-cell disease, heart disease, stiff neck and severe headache.

Lukewarm sponge baths

In most cases, a fever only needs to be treated if it is causing the child to be uncomfortable. This can be done by:

1. Giving an appropriate dosage of 'antifever' medication. This only helps to bring the fever down temporarily. It does not treat the underlying cause of the fever.

2. Giving a sponge bath using lukewarm water. It is not advisable to use alcohol, ice packs or cold baths.

3. Dressing the child in light clothes.

It is best to keep children away from school or daycare during this period. They may return when they have had a normal temperature for at least 24 hours.

Most children will have more than one episode of fever during childhood. The way they behave during this period tells you more than the thermometer. However, if you are unsure about what to do or the cause of the fever, you should consult your doctor

Dr Lisa N.C. Franklin-Banton is the president of the Paediatric Association of Jamaica. Email yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.