Evaluation of febrile children with petechial rashes: is there consensus among pediatricians?

Pediatr Infect Dis J. 1998 Dec;17(12):1135-40. doi: 10.1097/00006454-199812000-00007.


Background: The evaluation of febrile children with petechial rashes evokes controversy. Although many of these children have viral infections, on occasion such patients may be infected with Neisseria meningitidis.

Objective: To investigate differences in practice trends for the evaluation and management of non-toxic-appearing febrile children with petechial rashes among pediatric specialty groups.

Methods: We surveyed 833 pediatricians in 4 specialties [community (CGP) and academic (AGP) general pediatrics, emergency medicine (EM) and infectious diseases] regarding 4 hypothetical non-toxic-appearing febrile children ages 1, 2, 5 and 7 years. The patients differed with regard to clinical appearance, distribution of petechiae and complete blood count results. We compared specialty group responses, adjusting for practice setting, population size and years in practice using multiple logistic regression analysis.

Results: The survey was completed and returned by 416 (50%) pediatricians. There was substantial variation in the evaluation of the 2 younger febrile children without clear sources for their petechiae. For the 1-year-old the overall blood culture (BCx) rate was 82%, with the EM group (91%) more often requesting BCx than either the CGP (76%) or AGP (73%, P=0.001) groups. The overall hospital admission rate was 31%, with CGP less often requesting admission than infectious disease pediatricians (22% vs. 40%, P=0.007). In the regression analysis the only significant difference between groups was in BCx rate between the EM and AGP groups. For the 2-year-old the overall rate of BCx was 95%, lumbar puncture was 41% and admission was 44%, with no significant differences among groups. For the scenarios involving the 2 older febrile children with sources for their petechiae, the majority of respondents chose neither lumbar puncture nor admission. There was disagreement regarding BCx, both within and between groups, although most of the between group differences did not persist in the regression analysis.

Conclusions: There are substantial differences among pediatricians in the evaluation of young non-toxic-appearing febrile children with petechial rashes. Although there are some differences between pediatric subspecialties, most of these differences do not persist after adjusting for practice setting, population size and physician experience.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data
  • Data Collection
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Exanthema / etiology*
  • Female
  • Fever of Unknown Origin / etiology*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pediatrics / methods
  • Pediatrics / standards*
  • Pediatrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Purpura / etiology*
  • United States
  • Virus Diseases / complications
  • Virus Diseases / diagnosis*