Study objective: To determine the clinical significance of fever in geriatric emergency department patients.
Design: Case series with follow-up.
Setting: Urban, university-affiliated community hospital.
Participants: Consecutive patients over the age of 65 years who presented to the ED during a 12-month period with an oral temperature of 100.0 degrees F (37.8 degrees C) or higher.
Results: We considered the following features indicators of serious illness: positive blood culture(s), related death within 1 month of ED visit, need for surgery or other invasive procedure, hospitalization for 4 or more days, IV antibiotics for 3 or more days, and repeat ED visit within 72 hours for related condition. Four hundred eighty-nine patients were eligible for study. Of the 470 patients with complete follow-up data, 357 (76.0%) had indicators of serious illness. Clinical features found to be independently associated with serious illness included oral temperature of 103 degrees F (39.4 degrees C) or more, respiration rate of 30 or more, leukocytosis of 11.0 x 10(9)/L or more, presence of an infiltrate, and pulse of 120 or more. At least one indicator of serious illness was present in 63 of 128 patients (49.6%) with none of these independently predictive clinical features. The most common final diagnoses were pneumonia (24.0%), urinary-tract infection (21.7%), and sepsis (12.8%).
Conclusion: Fever among geriatric ED patients frequently marks the presence of serious illness. All such patients should be strongly considered for hospital admission, particularly when certain clinical features are present. The absence of abnormal findings does not reliably rule out the possibility of serious illness.