Role of body temperature in diagnosing bacterial infection in nursing home residents

Philip D. Sloane, Christine Kistler, C. Madeline Mitchell, Anna S. Beeber, Rosanna M. Bertrand, Alrick S. Edwards, Lauren E.W. Olsho, Louise S. Hadden Ba, James R. Bateman, Sheryl Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives To provide empirically based recommendations for incorporating body temperature into clinical decision-making regarding diagnosing infection in nursing home (NH) residents. Design Retrospective. Setting Twelve North Carolina NHs. Participants NH residents (N = 1,007) with 1,858 randomly selected antibiotic prescribing episodes. Measurements Maximum prescription-day temperature plus the three most recent nonillness temperatures were recorded for each prescribing episode. Two empirically based definitions of fever were developed: population-based (population mean nonillness temperature plus 2 population standard deviations (SDs)) and individualized (individual mean nonillness temperature plus 2 population SDs). These definitions were used along with previously published fever criteria and Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) criteria to determine how often each prescribing episode was associated with a "fever" according to each definition. Results Mean population nonillness temperature was 97.7 ± 0.5°F. If "normal" were defined as less than 2 SDs above the mean, fever would be defined as any temperature above 98.7°F, and the previously published fever cut-points and the IDSA criteria are 4.8 SDs above this mean. Between 30% and 32% of the 1,858 prescribing episodes examined were associated with temperatures more than 2 SDs above the population mean nonillness temperature, whereas only 10% to 11% of episodes met the previously published and IDSA fever definitions. Conclusion Clinicians should apply empirically based definitions to assess fever in NH residents. Furthermore, low fever prevalence in residents treated with antibiotics according to all definitions suggests that some prescribing may not be associated with acute bacterial infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-140
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • fever
  • infection
  • nursing homes
  • Temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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