A survey about management of febrile children without source by primary care physicians

Pediatr Infect Dis J. 1998 Apr;17(4):271-7; discussion 277-9. doi: 10.1097/00006454-199804000-00002.


Background: The management of young children with fever without source is controversial, and differences between physician specialties have been noted previously. The emergence of penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae, the sharp decline in invasive Haemophilus influenzae infections in immunized populations and publication of practice guidelines have potentially altered physician practices.

Objective: To determine the present practice preferences of pediatricians, family medicine physicians (FP) and emergency medicine physicians (EP).

Methods: We mailed a checklist survey to 1600 randomly selected pediatricians, family medicine practitioners (FP) and emergency medicine physicians (EP) in the United States and replicated the methodology of a 1991/1992 survey. Physicians were asked about their evaluation and management of children of various ages (3 weeks, 7 weeks, 4 months and 16 months) with fever without source.

Results: Most primary care physicians would admit the 3- and 7-week-old infants. For the 4-month-old infant 59% of EP, 45% of pediatricians and 28% of FP would give empiric antibiotic(s) as an outpatient (P=0.005 for FP compared with pediatricians and P=0.02 for EP compared with pediatricians). The majority of physicians would manage the 16-month-old child as an outpatient without antibiotic therapy. Ceftriaxone was the preferred antibiotic for outpatient empiric therapy. There was a 3-fold increase (28% vs. 9%) for pediatricians in the use of empiric outpatient antibiotics for the 7-week-old infant in the present survey compared with the 1991/1992 survey.

Conclusions: Physicians in the United States generally agree in their management of the young febrile infant, but with increasing patient age there is considerable variation. FP were the least aggressive in their evaluation and EP were the most aggressive.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Emergency Medicine*
  • Family Practice*
  • Fever of Unknown Origin / diagnosis*
  • Fever of Unknown Origin / drug therapy
  • Fever of Unknown Origin / therapy*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Patient Admission
  • Pediatrics*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents