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Ethnicity Plays Role in Parents' Treatment of Childhood Fever

MONDAY May 5, 2008 -- Most parents have some misconceptions about their children's fever and overtreat mild cases, a Johns Hopkins Children's Center study shows.

Parents' ethnicity may also play a role in how they view and treat the fever, the researchers added.

"It's a natural response for a parent to worry when a child has a fever and to want to fix it, so every pediatrician must have the fever talk with parents every time they bring a sick child to the office," study author Dr. Michael Crocetti said in a prepared statement. "We must remind parents not all fevers are dangerous, that fever is a sign of the body's revved-up defenses fighting infection, and that fever-reducing medications carry their own risks."

The findings were expected to be presented Monday at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Honolulu.

Researchers interviewing almost 500 parents visiting pediatric clinics at Hopkins found that, regardless of ethnicity, all parents tended to overtreat fever and reported giving their children acetaminophen and ibuprofen more often than recommended. The type of fever prescription and treatments, however, varied somewhat by ethnic group.

Hispanic parents had the highest "fever phobia," being 1.5 times more likely than whites and blacks to think fevers can cause death and brain damage. Brain damage only occurs in fevers higher than 107 degrees, and those are quite rare, researchers said.

Hispanic parents were 94 percent less likely than black and whites to view temperatures between 97 degrees and 100.3 degrees as normal. Anything over 100.4 is considered a fever.

Blacks were twice as likely as Hispanics and whites to give their children ibuprofen more often than the recommended single dose every six to eight hours.

Treating fever properly is important, Crocetti said, because it helps with grogginess, fatigue and irritability. Important things to remember include:

  • Acetaminophen should be given every four to six hours with no more than five doses within 24 hours.
  • Ibuprofen should be given every six to eight hours with no more than four doses within 24 hours. Never give ibuprofen to children under 6 months old.
  • Do not give fever reducers to infants under 3 months old without checking with your doctor.
  • Never give aspirin to a child.
  • More concerning than fever alone are symptoms including dehydration (marked by fewer than three wet diapers in 24 hours), fever lasting longer than five days and a baby not waking up to feed.

A separate study to be presented at the meeting showed that approximately one in 10 U.S. children uses one or more cough and cold medications during a given week.

While pediatric cough and cold medications are widely marketed in the United States, little had been known about how frequently often they are used. This new finding, made by researchers from Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center, is important given recent revelations that cough and cold medication use can lead to serious adverse effects, including death.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about fevers in infants and children.

Posted: May 2008


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