Parental fever phobia and its evolutionary correlates

J Clin Nurs. 2009 Jan;18(2):210-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.02077.x. Epub 2008 Feb 19.


Aims: This study aimed to identify parental views of fever in their children aged 1-6 years and to consider these and associated behaviours from an evolutionary perspective.

Background: Fever is a common symptom of illness in children; however, many parents express high levels of anxiety. This has previously been reported in several countries, most notably the USA. The purpose behind this study was to look at parental views and examine these from an evolutionary perspective to explain the persistence and ubiquity of parental fears of fever.

Method: A questionnaire was administered to 181 parents of children attending a paediatric outpatients department at a London teaching hospital.

Results: Many parents expressed high levels of worry and its possible complications. These manifest themselves in the frequency with which parents measured their child's temperature, and the aggressive nature of their treatment. Many reported over-using antipyretic drugs, or using non-evidence based practices such as sponging. However, in many cases they were also making appropriate behavioural alterations, for example, encouraging fluids and rest.

Conclusion: While many parents expressed high levels of worry about fever and used inappropriate treatments, this must be balanced against benefits such as increased vigilance and close attention to hydration. Lay health beliefs, such as those reported in this study, may be judged unduly negatively if individual aspects are seen in isolation.

Relevance to clinical practice: High levels of worry have been reported internationally, suggesting that they may form part of a conserved response to fever. Although many parents reported aggressive treatment of fever, they also used appropriate symptomatic interventions. Nurses and other healthcare professionals should act to reduce the fear of fever and concentrate upon accurate diagnosis and the appropriate treatment of the underlying illness.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use
  • Body Temperature
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Fever / drug therapy
  • Fever / etiology
  • Fever / psychology*
  • Fluid Therapy
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic