Awareness and First Aid

When you or your child has a fever, your first reaction is usually to try and reduce the temperature. But remember that a fever serves a purpose, playing a crucial role in the immune system’s response to illness.

“It’s important for people to understand that fever is not a disease, but a symptom of one,” says Michelle Cook, Branch Manager at ER24 West Metropole. “It’s the body’s normal response to infections; fighting them by doing maximum damage to pathogens [organisms that cause disease] and infected cells, and minimal damage to healthy cells.”

The heat makes your body’s natural immune cells work better while causing stress to pathogens and other infected cells.

What causes a low-grade fever in adults?

Cook says most low-grade fevers are caused by viral infections. Although there isn’t a specific guideline for what constitutes low grade, most healthcare professionals classify low range between 37.5˚C and 38.3˚C. If the temperature reaches 39.4˚C, only then is it considered dangerously high.

Low-grade fevers can last from three to five days and aid an adult’s body in fighting viral infections, which, unlike bacterial infections, don’t react to antibiotics.

What to do when your child has a fever

"A low-grade fever should be taken seriously in toddlers and infants,” warns Cook. This is because a low-grade fever in a toddler could be due to a more serious infection. In the case of an infant with a low-grade fever, always consult your doctor. The same applies to children of any age with immune system problems or pre-existing illnesses.

If you have concerns about your child, speak to your family doctor about managing their fever.

When is it an emergency?


Call the ER24 Contact Centre on 084 124 immediately if your child has the following symptoms:

  • Listless, confused or has poor eye contact with you
  • Irritable, vomits repeatedly, has diarrhoea, severe headache, sore throat, stomach-ache, or other symptoms that cause discomfort
  • Fever that lasts longer than three days
  • A seizure associated with the fever.


For adults, it’s important to monitor their temperature. “If the patient’s temperature climbs to 39.4˚C and higher you need to call for help,” says Cook. Other symptoms to look out for:

  • Severe headache
  • Rash
  • Unusual sensitivity to bright light
  • Stiff neck and pain when you bend your head forward
  • Mental confusion, strange behaviour, or altered speec
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain when urinating
  • Convulsions or seizures.

You can save time and lives by keeping a thermometer at home. Once you’ve confirmed the fever, it’s important to be on the lookout for any of the symptoms mentioned above. “A fever could last up to three days and there are various over-the-counter medications that can help to lower it.”

If you’re struggling, always call 084 124 for expert emergency medical care.