Fever is normally described as a body temperature above 37.0°C. It is thought to be the body’s way of fighting infection; more like a defense mechanism. So a fever is not really a bad thing, it helps us to know when something is wrong. Children get fevers from time to time as they are exposed to a lot of infectious agents.
How Fever Develops
When a bacteria or a virus invades the body they cause tissue injury and the immune system’s response is to produce pyrogens. These are chemicals which will be carried to the brain and there they disturb the functioning of the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus is a part of the brain that regulates body temperature. The pyrogens deceive the hypothalamus into thinking the body temperature is cooler than normal so the hypothalamus raises the temperature above the normal range.
This increased temperature stimulates activity and multiplication of white blood cells and increase the production of antibodies. It also inhibits the growth of bacteria and viruses that can only tolerate normal body temperature.
When a fever remains constant through out the whole day and fluctuates by not more than One degrees Celsius, it is termed as a continuous fever such as in typhoid fever, urinary tract infection and lobal pneumonia. Fever can also be intermittent which fluctuates as in the case of malaria. A remittent fever is one in which temperature is above normal levels through out the day and fluctuates by more than one degree Celsius.
Common Causes of Fever in Children
There are several things that go wrong in the body which can bring about fever in the child. Some are physiological (not from a disease) and others are pathological (from a disease). The most common of these causes are:
- Infections : bacterial infection, viral infection, malaria, etc.
- Immunizations : some vaccines will cause a low grade fever in children.
- Teething : most babies will experience a fever while they are teething.
- Too much covering : putting on a lot of clothes and cloths on babies in order to keep them warm tends to increase their body temperature.
Below are a few symptoms a child can show when he/she has a fever which may suggest the particular cause of the fever.
- Abdominal pain
- Stiff neck (is suggestive of meningitis)
- Ear pain or discharge (suggestive of otitis media or interna)
- Loss of appetite
- Skin rash (suggestive of measles)
- Cough (suggestive of pneumonia)
- Fast breathing (same as above)
How Fever is Diagnosed
When a child has a fever, it is advisable to take your child to see a Doctor Who will take the history of the fever and examine the child. A number of blood tests will also be done to know exactly what is causing the fever. These tests are done to discover what the exact cause of the fever might be. They include :
- Blood smear to rule out malaria
- Lumbar puncture if there are signs of meningitis
- Urine test
- Full blood count
- Chest X-ray
- Widal sensitivity test
- Blood cultures
How Fever Can be Treated
Fever is treated with antipyretics (drugs that reduce temperature) in which paracetamol (Tylenol or acetaminophen) is the most common. Ibuprofen can also help bring the temperature down.
Aside from medications, you can also do the following when your child has fever:
- Tepid sponge your child with wet towel or cold shower.
- Give a lot of fluids to help with the dehydration.
- Take your child to see a doctor for further management.
You can prevent infection in your child by maintaining good hygiene in the child’s environment and take the preventive measures against malaria. Good diet and standard immunisation of the child can help the child build strong immunity to fight infections and prevent diseases from occurring.