This winter, millions of parents will give children medicine to tackle a high temperature. But are we reaching for the paracetamol too quickly?
Some doctors and researchers now believe that parents - and many doctors - are ‘fever phobic’, over-anxious about children’s fevers and treating them too readily. They point out that even official National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines say children should not be given medicine simply to tackle a fever. And reducing a fever may slow recovery time, they say, because the temperature can help to kill the bacteria causing the illness.
Researchers at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children found that, after four hours, meningitis bacteria cooled to a normal 37c grew faster than bacteria kept at fever heat (40c).
‘Fever may play an important role in controlling the growth of this type of bacteria early in the disease,’ the researchers concluded. ‘But more research is needed.’
So should parentsworry about a fever? It’s an important issue because, quite apart from patient recovery time, dealing with childhood fevers takes up a lot of a doctors’ time; fevers result in 30 per cent of visits to A&E. And studies have found that 20 to 50 per cent of parents give their children doses of paracetamol or ibuprofen that are too high to tackle a fever.