Management of fever without source in infants and children

Ann Emerg Med. 2000 Dec;36(6):602-14. doi: 10.1067/mem.2000.110820.


Twenty percent of febrile children have fever without an apparent source of infection after history and physical examination. Of these, a small proportion may have an occult bacterial infection, including bacteremia, urinary tract infection (UTI), occult pneumonia, or, rarely, early bacterial meningitis. Febrile infants and young children have, by tradition, been arbitrarily assigned to different management strategies by age group: neonates (birth to 28 days), young infants (29 to 90 days), and older infants and young children (3 to 36 months). Infants younger than 3 months are often managed by using low-risk criteria, such as the Rochester Criteria or Philadelphia Criteria. The purpose of these criteria is to reduce the number of infants hospitalized unnecessarily and to identify infants who may be managed as outpatients by using clinical and laboratory criteria. In children with fever without source (FWS), occult UTIs occur in 3% to 4% of boys younger than 1 year and 8% to 9% of girls younger than 2 years of age. Most UTIs in boys occur in those who are uncircumcised. Occult pneumococcal bacteremia occurs in approximately 3% of children younger than 3 years with FWS with a temperature of 39.0 degrees C (102.2 degrees F) or greater and in approximately 10% of children with FWS with a temperature of 39.5 degrees C (103.1 degrees F) or greater and a WBC count of 15, 000/mm(3) or greater. The risk of a child with occult pneumococcal bacteremia later having meningitis is approximately 3%. The new conjugate pneumococcal vaccine (7 serogroups) has an efficacy of 90% for reducing invasive infections of Streptococcus pneumoniae. The widespread use of this vaccine will make the use of WBC counts and blood cultures and empiric antibiotic treatment of children with FWS who have received this vaccine obsolete.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Algorithms
  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Bacteremia / complications*
  • Bacteremia / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Fever of Unknown Origin / epidemiology
  • Fever of Unknown Origin / etiology*
  • Fever of Unknown Origin / therapy*
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pneumonia / complications*
  • Pneumonia / epidemiology
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Urinary Tract Infections / complications*
  • Urinary Tract Infections / epidemiology