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Fever is one of your body’s reactions to infection. What’s normal for you may be a little higher or lower than the average temperature of 98.6 F (37°C). But a rectal temperature higher than 100.4 F (38°C) is always considered a fever. A rectal temperature reading is generally 1 degree F (about 0.5°C) higher than an oral reading.

For very young children and infants, even slightly elevated temperatures may indicate a serious infection. In newborns, a subnormal temperature – rather than a fever – also may be a sign of serious illness.

Don’t treat fevers below 102 F (38.9°C) with any medications unless advised to do so by your doctor. If you have a fever of 102 F (38.9°C) or higher, your doctor may suggest taking an over-the-counter medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others). Adults may also use aspirin. But don’t give aspirin to children. It may trigger a rare, but potentially fatal, disorder known as Reye’s syndrome. Also, don’t give ibuprofen to infants younger than 6 months of age.

Fahrenheit-Celsius conversion table
°F °C
105 40.6
104 40.0
103 39.4
102 38.9
101 38.3
100 37.8
99 37.2
98 36.7
97 36.1
96 35.6

How to take a temperature
You can choose from several types of thermometers. Today most have digital readouts. Some take the temperature quickly from the ear canal and can be especially useful for young children and older adults. Other thermometers can be used rectally, orally or under the arm. If you use a digital thermometer, be sure to read the instructions so you know what the beeps mean and when to read the thermometer. Under normal circumstances, temperatures tend to be highest around 4 p.m. and lowest around 4 a.m. Because of the potential for mercury exposure or ingestion, glass mercury thermometers have been phased out and are no longer recommended.

Rectally (for infants)
To take your child’s temperature rectally Taking a rectal temperature is also an option for older adults when taking an oral temperature is not possible.

To take your temperature orally Under the arm (axillary)
Although it’s not the most accurate way to take a temperature, you can also use an oral thermometer for an armpit reading To take your child’s axillary temperature, sit your child in your lap with your child facing to the side. Place the thermometer under your child’s near arm, which should be against your chest.

Get medical help for a fever in these cases Call your doctor immediately if any of these signs or symptoms accompanies a fever When reporting a fever to your doctor, don’t attempt to convert from a rectal reading to an oral reading. It’s simpler to just report what the reading was and how you took it.