'Fever phobia' in the emergency department: a survey of children's caregivers

Eur J Emerg Med. 2006 Jun;13(3):129-33. doi: 10.1097/01.mej.0000194401.15335.c7.


Objectives: To investigate children's caregivers' attitudes towards fever in an emergency department setting.

Methods: A 25-item questionnaire was formulated, on the basis of similar previous published surveys, for administration to a convenience sample of caregivers. It was administered by a medical translator after triage, before assessment by a physician. Most questions were multiple choice, a few open-ended.

Results: Three hundred questionnaires were administered to caregivers and 264 were analyzed. A high proportion (82%) of caregivers professed to be 'very worried' about fever. Temperatures that were felt to require treatment were relatively low (one-third treating <37.9 degrees C), but many respondents measured body temperature at the axilla. Similar to previously published studies, the main specific concerns were possible central nervous system damage (24%), seizures (19%) and death (5%), although worries about discomfort and signs of serious illness were also expressed by a significant number of respondents (11%). Similar to older surveys, home treatment of fever was worrisome, with too-frequent dosing (acetaminophen <q4h, 27%; ibuprofen <q6h, 50%) and possibly inappropriate topical treatments (76%) being used. The presence of both parents in the emergency department was associated with lower levels of worry.

Conclusions: We found high levels of anxiety among caregivers presenting to a hospital emergency department with a complaint of fever in a child. Many caregivers appear to confuse effects of fever with the harmful effects of hyperthermia. Aggressive and potentially dangerous home therapy and monitoring of fever is common among the caregivers surveyed.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Health Services
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Fever* / complications
  • Fever* / diagnosis
  • Fever* / drug therapy
  • Fever* / physiopathology
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Home Care Services
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Arab Emirates


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic