Parental and health care provider understanding of childhood fever: a Canadian perspective

CJEM. 2002 Nov;4(6):394-400. doi: 10.1017/s1481803500007892.


Objectives: Fever is common in children and causes misconceptions among parents. Many investigators have called for improved parental education to dispel "fever phobia." Our objectives were to assess parental and health care provider understanding of fever, its treatment, and beliefs about its consequences, as well as to identify parental sources of information about fever.

Methods: Self-administered surveys were distributed to 3 parent groups and 4 health care provider groups. Parent groups included parents of children with fever presenting to the emergency department (ED) (fever group, n = 209), parents of children with an injury presenting to ED (injury group, n = 160), and parents of healthy school children (school group, n = 141). Provider groups included pediatric ED physicians (n = 16), pediatric ED nurses (n = 39), general pediatricians (n = 26) and family physicians (n = 79).

Results: Parent groups considered a temperature of 37.9 degrees C to be a fever, 39.1 degrees C to be a high fever, and 39.9 degrees C to be a dangerous fever. Parents were most concerned about discomfort, seizures and dehydration, and parents in the "fever group" worried more about dehydration (p = 0.01) and brain damage (p = 0.03) than other parents. Most physicians were concerned about dehydration and seizures, but family physicians were most likely to express concerns about brain damage (40.5%) and death (34.1%).

Conclusions: Fever phobia exists among parents and health care providers and is most likely in parents of febrile children and family physicians. Health care providers varied in their knowledge of fever and its treatment. Greater education of health care workers is required in order to provide families with appropriate information.