What is a high temperature for an adult and a child and what temperature is classified as a fever?

AS the winter months draw in, colds, Covid and other illnesses will be circulating.

A high temperature is an indicator that the body is fighting infection, and in some cases, warrants medical attention.

What is a high temperature for an adult and child?

A high temperature – also called a fever – is typically considered to be 38C (100.4F) or over.

According to the NHS, the standard body temperature in adults is 37C (98.6F).

However this amount can fluctuate slightly depending on the person’s age, the time of day and the current activity.

It is generally accepted that 36.1C (97F) to 37.2C (99F) is a normal range for body temperature.

But the NHS says if you feel hot or shivery, you may have a high temperature even if a thermometer says your temperature is below 38C (100.4F).

Other signs include sweating or warm, red skin, and your chest or back feeling hotter than usual.

For babies and children, the normal body temperature is 36.4C (97.5F), but again, this can vary slightly.

A high temperature in a child or baby is also 38C (100.4F) or over.

What causes a high temperature?

A fever is the body's response to a number of illnesses, including flu, the coronavirus, tonsilitis, UTIs, a stomach bug, heat exhaustion, or a vaccine, which mimicks a virus.

Public health officials have warned there are more bugs in circulation at the moment as people have lower immunity due to lockdowns, and are now mixing again freely.

Cases of RSV (a common cold) and norovirus are also higher than this time of year, due to more mixing since restrictions lifted.

All three cause a high temperature.

When should I see a doctor?

A high temperature in itself doesn't mean you need to see a doctor, and it usually subsides over three or four days.

Make sure you get plenty of fluids (and look out for signs of dehydration), rest at home and eat some food if you have the appetite. The same goes for children.

However, there are some indications things may be a bit more serious.

In adults, you should see a GP if you have severe thirst, have dark or very little urine, you are light-headed or feel weak, you have severe muscle cramps or you have recently been abroad.

Children should be seen by a doctor if there are other symptoms such as a rash.

Warning signs also include that they won't eat, they are not themselves or are dehyrated (dry nappies or sunken eyes), or paracetemol does not help.

Babies under three months should always be seen by a doctor, as well as those under six months with a temperature of 39C (102.2F) or higher.

When to call 999

Sometimes a fever is just one of many symptoms that suggest medical attention is urgently needed.

The NHS says call 999 if your child:

  • has a stiff neck
  • has a rash that does not fade when you press a glass against it (use the "glass test" from Meningitis Now)
  • is bothered by light
  • has a fit (febrile seizure) for the first time (they cannot stop shaking)
  • has unusually cold hands and feet
  • has blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
  • has a weak, high-pitched cry that's not like their normal cry
  • is drowsy and hard to wake
  • is extremely agitated (does not stop crying) or is confused
  • finds it hard to breathe and sucks their stomach in under their ribs
  • is not responding like they normally do, or is not interested in feeding or normal activities

When do you need to seek coronavirus advice?

The NHS advises you stay home if you have either of these coronavirus symptoms: 

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • a loss or change in smell or taste

Get a coronavirus PCR test for free on the NHS to find out if you have Covid.

There are some 20 symptoms seen in people with Covid, and experts say if you think you have the disease, get a PCR test anyway.

The signs in people who are vaccinated have changed, and most commonly include sneezing, headache and runny nose.

How can I protect myself from illness?

The best way to prevent catching bugs, including the coronavirus, is to practice good hygiene.

In order to reduce your risk of infection, you should:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick

Dr Lesley Larkin, surveillance lead for the Gastrointestinal Pathogens Unit at Public Health England, said: “Remember, unlike for Covid-19 alcohol gels do not kill off norovirus so soap and water is best.”

If you have cold-like symptoms, you can help protect others by staying home when you are sick and avoiding contact with others.

You should also cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw it away and wash your hands.

Cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces which you may have touched is also important.

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