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Indian consensus guidelines on evaluation & management of febrile child

M3 India Newsdesk Oct 18, 2018

Fever in children is one of the most common reason why parents seek medical care. Experts opine that conjugate vaccines against capsulated bacterial pathogens have impacted the epidemiology of the febrile child.An expert panel in India has created an algorithm that guides towards the evaluation and management of the febrile child when seen in the emergency department in the Indian setting.


India,a tropical country, shows a distinct spectrum of common tropical illnesses particularly seen in post-monsoon  season.This algorithmic approach of fever management in the ED is a primary initiation by the PEM Chapter of ACEE-India under the aegis of INDO-US Emergency and Trauma Collaborative. Relevant factors considered include presence of localising symptoms, evidence based on epidemiology, immune status, ill or not appearance, fever duration, and the child's age.

General concepts

  • Core body temperature measured via the rectum is the most accurate and preferred measurement, especially in very young children
  • Triage by trained health professional should result in a quick and fast clinical assessment
  • Whether the febrile child appears well or ill should be ascertained using the paediatric assessment triangle and/or Paediatric Early Warning Scores (PEWS) along with vital signs measurements of the temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and pulse oximetry to further quantify the illness severity
  • Irrespective of the cause of the fever, lifesaving resuscitative measures should be started in every febrile child at risk for cardio-pulmonary compromise and septic shock
  • Procedures of intravenous or intraosseous vascular access, airways management with supplemental oxygen and cardiac monitoring should be initiated in these cases
  • If the resources are present, resuscitation can be bedside guided by bedside glucose testing, capillary blood gas analysis, point-of-care serum electrolytes measurements, and ionized calcium and lactate levels
  • Based on the suspected bacterial overload, empiric broad spectrum antibiotics should be given immediately
  • Rapid and adequate amounts of IV isotonic fluids should be given if the patient is in shock

Managing immunocompromised children

Immunocompromised children such as those with neutropenia, malignancy on chemotherapy, on long term oral steroids, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV infection), and with primary immunodeficiency states are at high risk of serious infections are at greater risk of serious infection with poorer prognosis. They need extensive evaluation of their febrile state which should be regarded as a life-threatening event.

Localised versus unlocalised symptoms/signs

Localised: A child with fever and localizing symptoms/signs is easier to manage specifically. The focus of infection should be ascertained as early as possible since the management will depend on the common organisms seen in that particular age group. For viral etiologies, only supportive treatment and a follow up is needed.

Unlocalised: In India, febrile children without any localization are very commonly seen. Conditions such as malaria, dengue, and enteric fever fall in this bracket and their overlapping clinical presentations make them difficult to diagnose in the ED.

ACEE recommendations want the febrile child without any localization to be categorized either into well- or ill-/toxic-appearing child. All at ages emergency hospitalization and comprehensive evaluation is recommended in such a child.


A complete history and physical examination are mandatory for evaluation. Vaccination history may prevent unnecessary investigation. Dehydration fever may be seen in new-borns and young infants. Irritability, poor feeding, reduced activity, and an ill looking child are subtle signs for serious underlying illness.

Document the pulse rate and volume, pulse oximetry, temperature, capillary refill time, respiration type and rate (RR). A full undressed head to toe exam may assist in finding an occult cause of fever.

Age wise evaluation and management criteria

Evaluating and managing a well-looking child is based on defined age groups that is neonates (28 days and less), young infant (29 to 90 days); older infant and young children (91 days to 2 years), and children more than 2 years.

  • For febrile new-borns (<28 days): It is mandatory that all new-borns with fever be admitted and undergo a complete investigative workup including a complete blood count (CBC), C- reactive protein (CRP), peripheral blood smear (PBS) (band form, toxic granules, vacuolization, immature/total ratio ), blood and urine culture, urine analysis (UA), lumbar puncture (LP), and chest X- ray (CXR). Stool examination for pus cell and red blood cell (RBC) is not mandatory but can be done if stool symptoms are present. Do not discharge the active febrile new-born even if the first septic screen is negative.
  • For young febrile infants (29 to 90 days): If active, observe and measure vitals in the ED. Do the mandatory complete blood count (CBC), peripheral blood smear (PBS), urine analysis (UA), and blood and urine culture. Chest X-ray is indicated if the temperature is >102.2°F (39°C), leucocyte count is >20,000 per mm3 or respiratory signs are present. Urine microscopy and urine culture obtained by catheterization is recommended.
  • For febrile child of 91 days to 2 years: Lumbar puncture may be deferred sometimes in this age group. Mandatory tests include a complete blood count (CBC), C-reactive protein (CRP), peripheral blood smear (PBS) (band form, toxic granules, vacuolization, immature/total ratio), blood and urine culture, and urinalysis.
  • For febrile children above 2 years: If temperature <39°C, only observe. If temperature is >39°C, do a CBC, CRP, PBS (band form, toxic granules, vacuolization, immature / total ratio), blood and urine culture, and urinalysis. In endemic areas, do a peripheral blood smear, and rapid tests for malaria, dengue, and enteric fever. Blood cultures may also be done in typhoid-endemic areas.

Investigations for serious bacterial infections

CBC, procalcitonin (PCT), CRP and lab score >3 are regarded as useful markers for serious bacterial infection (SBI) even though the sensitivity and specificity is better in the age group of <90 days versus the age group of <180 days. Absolute band cells and PCT are the best markers of SBI in children <36 months of age. But, PCT is costly and its limited availability makes it impossible to use as a screening tool in Indian context.


  • Intravenous (IV) access and empiric antibiotics in ill-appearing neonates and young infants should be started in the ED
  • Ampicillin 100 to 200 mg/kg/day tid and Gentamicin 7.5 mg/kg/day tid should be started in febrile infants <28 days old
  • IV Ceftriaxone 100 mg/kg/day or 75 mg/kg/day bd can be given if meningeal involvement is present in older infants

Admit or Discharge?

Once stabilized in ED, the child may be admitted to the hospital or discharged based on the following parameters.

Indications for hospitalization include all emergency patients in need of:

  • airway stabilization
  • ventilation or continued O2 requirement
  • patients <28 days of age
  • prolonged seizure/status epilepticus
  • altered sensorium
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • signs of severe dehydration
  • patient not feeding well
  • respiratory distress
  • SPO2 <90% in room air
  • drug toxicity or drug reaction
  • unknown or undetermined cause
  • concern for non-compliance or inability of follow-up

The indications for discharge are:

  • no emergent need for airway, ventilation or circulatory support
  • stable vitals
  • child accepting, definitive management plan has been worked out
  • compliance and follow up are ensured


Reference:Consensus Guidelines on Evaluation and Management of the Febrile Child Presenting to the Emergency Department in India.54,Indian pediatrics

This article was originally published on 25.09.18

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