by Dr Victoria Matheson

As a Paediatrician and Emergency Medicine Specialist I know that many parents worry about high fevers.


Fevers are the body’s natural way of fighting infection and are rarely dangerous.

There are lots of misunderstandings about fever in the community.

It’s important to know that:

1. A fever will not cause brain damage.

2. The height of a fever does not predict how unwell your child is. Many viruses are associated with fevers over 39 degrees and some deadly bacterial infections don’t cause a fever at all.

3. The fever’s response to paracetamol or Nurofen does not predict how well or unwell your child is.

In general a child should see a doctor if they have a fever and:

·      look unwell

·      are not eating or drinking

·      have a persistent fever for more than five days

·      have a fever that does not seem to have a cause

·      have recently been on antibiotics

·      have an underlying medical condition that might affect their ability to fight infection

·      are under six months old or were born prematurely

·      have nausea and repeated vomiting


It’s important to remember that fever is a normal part of childhood, and shows your child’s immune system is kicking in to fight an infection.

It’s just as important to know that sometimes fever can be a sign of something more serious.


As paediatricians we are always on the alert for certain signs that show a child could be seriously ill.  We’re very concerned if a child develops signs of sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to the infection.

 Parents should know about these signs, and seek immediate urgent, even lifesaving, medical attention.  

Take a good look at your child when they are unwell and notice if they have any of the following signs:


1.     Lethargy
Is it hard to wake your child?  Is the child too sleepy or weak to talk or interact with you?  Are they too unwell to be interested in what is going on around them? Are they too unwell to feed or drink and as result are not passing urine or wetting nappies as they normally would?

3.     Constant pain and/or irritability
Does your child have pain or irritability that can’t be soothed?  Do they seem confused or distressed and unable to settle?

4.     Breathing changes
Is your child having trouble breathing? Are they breathing very quickly, or grunting or wheezing? Do they have shortness of breath?

5.     Rash
This can include patches of discoloured skin that don’t fade when you press on them. Look out for a rash that looks like a cluster of tiny red pinpricks on the skin. These bruises can join together to form large areas of darkened or purple skin damage or discolouration.

6.     Do they have a fever or a low temp with chills? Is the skin clammy or pale with cold hands and feet?

We all understand how scary it is as a parent when your child gets sick. You never need to make the decision if they are ok on your own.

If you are worried check with your GP, Emergency Department or Paediatrician. 


Early recognition is the key to fighting sepsis. 

So never wait if you are worried and seek help urgently of your child shows any of the signs of sepsis.  

Be reassured that most childhood illnesses and fever will be ok, but it’s important to be aware of the danger signs of a more serious illness.