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98.6 Degrees Is a Normal Body Temperature, Right? Not Quite

When we aren't feeling well, one of the first things we do is grab a thermometer to see if we have a fever. But does that really tell us? We've been told all our lives that normal body temperature is 98.6, but that was determined from a flawed study done 150 years ago. Now we have new research. Your body temperature could be different in the morning and afternoon and still be quite normal.

The study, published online this month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, refutes the age-old benchmark of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, [rheumatologist Jonathan] Hausmann and his colleagues found an average normal temperature in adults of 97.7 degrees, as measured with an oral thermometer. (The published study uses results from 329 healthy adults.) As for fever, Hausmann found that it begins at 99.5 degrees, on average.

But that doesn’t mean you should shift to a lower benchmark for normal. Hausmann wants body temperature to be a flexible concept, viewed in context with age, gender, time of day, and other factors—much in the way weight is evaluated based on height, and how the thresholds for normal blood pressure differ based on age.

So you could have a fever even if your temperature is under 100 degrees. The important part his knowing what to do about it. Read about body temperature and fever at Wired. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker)


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This reminded me of a study from a while back: that mothers' ability to diagnose a fever by touch and feel alone is actually quite good:

Of 124 febrile children, 104 mothers accurately detected a fever in their children (sensitivity 84%), while of 198 afebrile children, 150 mothers accurately detected the absence of fever (specificity 76%). We conclude that mothers are able to provide accurate information about the presence or absence of fever in their children by touch and without the use of a thermometer.
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Since I no longer have kids at home, I no longer have a fever thermometer. I don't have scales, either. I know when I'm overweight, and I know when I have a fever. At my age, I can pretty much tell when either is in the danger zone.
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