A third of children under six who go to hospital with a fever could instead possibly be treated by their GPs, according to new Australian research.

Analysis of hospital emergency department admissions showed in most of these cases, kids were simply given fluids to drink and paracetamol to reduce fever.

Researchers at the University of Tasmania say educating parents about managing fever, and in particular managing dehydration, may reduce the overall burden on the health system.

“Parents’ fear of fever, or ‘fever phobia’, has been well documented, both nationally and internationally, over the past three decades,” they wrote in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

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“It has been reported that many parents are unable to determine what a normal temperature for their child is and are excessively concerned about the harm that they expect to be associated with fever, such as brain damage and seizures.”

To investigate the impact of ‘fever phobia’ on the health-care system, the researchers looked at all patient admissions to the Royal Hobart Hospital emergency department between January 2013 and December 2015.

In total, there were 165,806 emergency presentations, with children under the age of six accounting for 17 per cent all emergency presentations.
Of these children, there were 459 presentations (0.3 per cent) to the ED with a primary diagnosis description of ‘unspecified fever’.

Further analysis showed of all presentations, 141 (30.7 per cent) were classified as potentially avoidable, “GP-type presentations” as defined by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

In most (88.8 per cent) of these cases, the only therapy administered in the ED was fever-alleviating oral medication such as ibuprofen or paracetamol and/or oral fluids.

The researchers say further investigation is needed to determine whether these could be managed in the primary care setting.

Fever NOT an emergency

Australian paediatric doctor, Dr. Nelu, also shares that a fever is NOT an emergency.

‘Fever itself is not an emergency! Your child can have a fever of 40C with a simple virus,’ Dr. Nelu said.

‘It is the cause of the fever that is more important than the actual number itself.

‘Fever is 38C or above. And any fever in a baby less than three months should be seen by a doctor fairly urgently.’

Dr. Nelu said doctors should be seen if children have a fever for more than two days (if there are no other viral symptoms), if irritability doesn’t improve with medications, if they are having less than half normal fluids or if they have vomiting and diarrhoea that doesn’t improve.

‘See a doctor urgently if your child has a fever and the rash has dark red or purple spots that don’t disappear when you push it, is complaining of a headache and is not moving their neck as much or having trouble looking at lights or is so lethargic they are having trouble waking up,’ she said.

Heavy breathing (sucking in at the throat, between the ribs, underneath their ribs or using their stomach to breathe rapidly) is also a sign to see a doctor urgently.

Read more: An Australian paediatric doctor has shared 10 things she believes all parents should know.

Please NEVER doubt your instincts if you think something is wrong!

Share your comments below

  • I would see a GP first and see what he suggests


  • The more information parents can be provided the less likely unnecessary presentations will be made to the hospital. This likely applies not just to parents but to everyone. Education is key.


  • No, I don’t think fever is an Emergency. Unless your child is very young and other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration or breathing problems come up at hours after your doctors practice is closed, in which case I think you should go to the emergency department.


  • This is so handy to know as a new mum. Thanks for sharing this. It makes me feel less worried.


  • There are so many adverts and information advising people to keep emergency departments for emergencies. There are after hour home gp visits so no need to go to hospital for a fever?


  • I do also believe that a fever is not an emergency, I think a gp visit is the way to go and if you’re worried of a night you can call a doctor to your door


  • A fever in tiny children is always an emergency for parents. If the local GP is as hard to get into as ours is, where an appointment is booked today for three weeks down the track, hospital emergency is the only way


  • I agree going to hospital for a fever is not an emergency however I do believe that certain things should be taken into consideration like the fact that it could be the middle of the night and that the child may be having seizures or that the family may be living in a rural area all these things should be considered


  • I was told off for taking my son to the ER with a fever when he was 18 months old. The fact that he also had a rash and it was the middle of the night wasn’t even considered. We live in a regional area that has no 24 hour GPs. I’d do everything the same again in a second. No way am I going to risk leaving it until morning.


  • I agree with cherz and when it comes to children I’d rather be safe than sorry.


  • Once again another story I am in two minds about. I can see why some parents present at ER …gosh we are talking about children here and their children is the utmost important thing to them. How many times have we heard or read about stories where children have been taken to Drs or ER and have been dismissed with just “take some paracetamol, plenty of fluids and rest ” and they will be fine, only to result in severe illness and sometimes death. Many Parents are not doctors and they just do not know what is ok and what is not when it comes to children and very high fevers. Yes I agree that many of these cases possibly should have visited their local family Dr but in saying that there are times when you can not get in to see your doctor(he is booked solid) or it is after hours or a weekend.


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