When does a fever require medical attention?

When does a fever require medical attention?
SEATTLE - What's your normal body temperature? You probably said 98.6. That's what we all think. The fact is, there's isn't one normal temperature for everyone. Body temperature varies from person to person.

Dr. John Swartzberg, head of the editorial board at the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter tells me normal can range from as low as 96 degrees to as high as 99.9 degrees. “And that temperature varies during the day," he says.

If your body temperature is above 99.9 degrees you have a fever. "But that doesn't mean you have to call a doctor every time you have a fever," Dr. Swartzberg says.

He recommends that anyone with a temperature higher than 104 degrees contact a doctor. Fevers of 106 degrees or higher are life-threatening and should be treated right away.

Dr. Swartzberg says an infant with a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher or a non-rectal temperature of 100 degrees or higher needs medical attention.

The Wellness Letter says a rectal thermometer gives the most accurate reading of the body's core temperature. But for a parent trying to take a child’s temperature, they are not the easiest way to go. It’s not that pleasant for the child, either. Also, it’s a lot easier to spread bacteria using a rectal thermometer.

In its December 2006 issue, the Wellness Letter says any of the other types of thermometers "are reasonably accurate," except for those disposable forehead temperature strips.

Remember, the reading on an oral thermometer will be affected if you've had something hot or cold in your mouth within 20 minutes of taking your temperature.

More Information:

Fever: When to seek medical advice

Home treatment of fevers

Fever in infants and children

Fever and taking your child's temperature