My elderly nursing home patient is admitted with recent poor oral intake, falls and oral temperatures of 99.1°-99.3° F(37.3°-37.4°C). Is she considered febrile at these temperatures?

Yes! Even though we often think of temperatures of 100.4°F (38° C) or greater as fever, older people often fail to mount an appropriate febrile response despite having a serious infection. 1

Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) guideline on evaluation of fever in older adult residents of long-term care facilities has defined fever in this population as:2

  • Single oral temperature >100° F (>37.8° C) OR
  • Repeated oral temperatures >99° F (>37.2° C) OR
  • Rectal temperatures >99.5° F (>37.5° C) OR
  • Increase in temperature of >2° F (>1.1° C) over the baseline temperature

Even at these lower than traditional thresholds for defining fever, remember that many infected elderly patients may still lack fever. In a study involving bacteremic patients, nearly 40% of those 80 years of age or older did not have fever (defined as maximum temperature over 24 hrs 100° F [37.8°C] or greater).3  

So our patient meets the criteria for fever as suggested by IDSA guidelines and, particularly in light of her recent poor intake and falls, may need evaluation for a systemic source of infection.

Now that’s interesting! Did you know that blunted febrile response of the aged to infections may be related to the inability of cytokines (eg, IL-1) to reach the central nervous system?1

References 

  1. Norman DC. Fever in the elderly. Clin Infect Dis 2000;31:148-51. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/31/1/148/318030
  2. High KP, Bradley SF, Gravenstein S, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for the evaluation of fever and infection in older adult residents of long-term care facilities: 2008 update by the Infectious Disease Society of America. Clin Infect Dis 2009;48:149-71. http://www.idsociety.org/uploadedFiles/IDSA/Guidelines-Patient_Care/PDF_Library/Fever%20and%20Long%20Term%20Care.pdf
  3. Manian FA. Fever, abnormal white blood cell count, neutrophilia, and elevated serum C-reactive protein in adult hospitalized patients with bacteremia. South Med J 2012;105;474-78. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/22948327
My elderly nursing home patient is admitted with recent poor oral intake, falls and oral temperatures of 99.1°-99.3° F(37.3°-37.4°C). Is she considered febrile at these temperatures?