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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006, 23:49 GMT 00:49 UK
Parents unsure on treating fever
Parent and sick child
A mild fever can be a sign of good health
Many parents are giving their children incorrect doses of medicines to try to bring down fever, a study suggests.

A review of 70 studies suggested more than 50% of parents gave their children the wrong doses of paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring down temperatures.

And around a quarter alternated between different medicines when their child had a fever, the study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing suggested.

The Australian team said parents should be given better advice on the subject.

It is also very important that parents receive advice and guidance from healthcare professionals
Anne Walsh

The team's review of 70 earlier studies showed there had been little improvement in the understanding of what constituted a high temperature.

In children, any temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above is considered high and is classed as a fever.

Parents in the study defined high temperatures as between 37 and 39 C.

The study said: "They classify mild fever as high and actively reduce temperatures, sometimes normal temperatures, with incorrect doses of antipyretics.

Although the study suggested that parents beliefs that fever was a sign of serious illness have reduced, concerns about feverish convulsions, dehydration and associated discomfort have increased.

'Emotionally challenging'

Successive studies found that, while parents were aware that an overdose of antipyretics, such as paracetamol, could be dangerous, they were not clear about the doses they should be giving.

Overdosing with ibuprofen was a particular concern as was parents' practice of alternating between paracetamol and ibuprofen when the drug did not appear to work, the study found.

Lead author nurse Anne Walsh from Queensland University of Technology said caring for a feverish child could be "emotionally challenging" for parents.

The use of drugs such as paracetamol gave parents a sense of control, she said.

"The limited improvements in knowledge, attitudes and practices highlighted by our research point to the need for a closer examination of the subject.

"It is also very important that parents receive advice and guidance from healthcare professionals before their child experiences his or her first feverish episode," she added.

Damp cloths

Ms Walsh also pointed out that, despite recent moves towards seeing mild fever as evidence of a healthy immune system, parents still viewed it as a negative sign.

Matt Griffiths, prescribing and medicines manager adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, said keeping on top of children's temperatures was very important.

He said: "People obviously need to be careful with medicines particularly where children are concerned.

"Just because paracetamol is available over the counter some people consider it to be safe. It is safe when used safely but it must not be taken without reading the instructions."

He said paracetamol and ibuprofen could be used along with other methods to keep temperatures down such as drinking plenty of fluids, sponging with a cool, damp cloth and removing excess clothing.

Illness manual

But he warned: "If children's temperatures do not come down children under five are at risk of having a febrile convulsion - a fit."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said information on childhood illness and how to measure and control a temperature was contained in its "Birth to Five" manual which is given to every first time mother.

"Fever is among the most common reasons for a child presenting at a doctor's surgery or A&E.

"The department therefore commissioned, and has distributed widely, a new DVD training aid on recognising acute illness in childhood called 'Spotting the Sick Child'.

"This has been endorsed by the Faculty of A&E Medicine and by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health," she added.

Infant fever
02 Jun 99 |  Medical notes


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