Be prepared! Children rarely make it through the winter without a mild fever.

FEVERS ARE THE BODY'S way of ridding itself of infection. Still, there's important information to keep in mind when dealing with this aspect of children's health. Make sure everyone recognizes symptoms of a fever and understands your program policy.

What Does a Fever Look Like?

Take note if a child is:

  • listless
  • flushed in face, neck, and/or ears
  • warm to the touch on forehead and/or ears
  • feeling a lack of appetite
  • more thirsty than usual

What's Your Policy on Fevers?

The following recommendations are from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • No child should be allowed to come to school with a fever.
  • If a child gets a fever during the day, a parent or family-designated person must be called, and the child needs to be isolated from other children until the person arrives.
  • The child cannot return to school until he's feverfree for at least 24 hours.

Fever Facts

  • Fever fluctuates based on the time of day. Fevers are lowest in the early morning and highest in the late afternoon.
  • Temperature readings vary depending on how they're taken. It's safe, easy, and accurate to take temperatures by ear with a digital thermometer.
  • Age affects fevers. Infants run higher fevers than older children, because their immune systems can't fight infections as effectively

When to Worry

According to Dr. Howard Reinstein a pediatrician in private practice in Encino, California, and an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson, "Fever in babies under three or four months is always taken seriously. Kids this age can go from being a little sick to being really sick very quickly. The fever can also be a sign of some significant problem, such as pneumonia or a urinary tract infection." Dr. Reinstein advises immediate medical attention any time an infant runs a fever.

As children get older, lowgrade fever may be cause for alarm. Children should not be in school, but Dr. Reinstein advises parents to use the child's behavior to help interpret how serious his fever is. "The numbers don't tell us that much," he explains. "Medically, we're a lot less interested in knowing that the fever is 102.4°F than knowing whether a child is lethargic and irritable or alert and eating and drinking okay."

If a child is running a fever of less than 103°F, is older than six months, and is otherwise acting fine, Dr. Reinstein says, there's no immediate need for parents to do anything other than provide plenty of liquids. If, however, a child seems uncomfortable from the fever, parents can administer acetaminophen. (For fevers above 101°F or so, doctors will often recommend ibuprofen.) However, if the fever persists for two or three days, parents should check with a doctor.

Something to think about:

Many centers are requiring not only parental permission to administer any kind of medicine but also a prescription from the child's doctor (even for over-the-counter drugs).