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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fever Incidence Is Much Lower in the Morning than the Evening: Boston and US National Triage Data


Introduction: In this observational study, we evaluated time-of-day variation in the incidence of fever that is seen at triage. The observed incidence of fever could change greatly over the day because body temperatures generally rise and fall in a daily cycle, yet fever is identified using a temperature threshold that is unchanging, such as ≥38.0° Celsius (C) (≥100.4° Fahrenheit [F]).

Methods: We analyzed 93,225 triage temperature measurements from a Boston emergency department (ED) (2009-2012) and 264,617 triage temperature measurements from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS, 2002-2010), making this the largest study of body temperature since the mid-1800s. Boston data were investigated exploratorily, while NHAMCS was used to corroborate Boston findings and check whether they generalized. NHAMCS results are nationally representative of United States EDs. Analyses focused on adults.

Results: In the Boston ED, the proportion of patients with triage temperatures in the fever range (≥38.0°C, ≥100.4°F) increased 2.5-fold from morning to evening (7:00-8:59 PM vs 7:00-8:59 AM: risk ratio [RR] 2.5, 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.0-3.3). Similar time-of-day changes were observed when investigating alternative definitions of fever: temperatures ≥39.0°C (≥102.2°F) and ≥40.0°C (≥104.0°F) increased 2.4- and 3.6-fold from morning to evening (7:00-8:59 PM vs 7:00-8:59 AM: RRs [95% CIs] 2.4 [1.5-4.3] and 3.6 [1.5-17.7], respectively). Analyses of adult NHAMCS patients provided confirmation, showing mostly similar increases for the same fever definitions and times of day (RRs [95% CIs] 1.8 [1.6-2.1], 1.9 [1.4-2.5], and 2.8 [0.8-9.3], respectively), including after adjusting for 12 potential confounders using multivariable regression (adjusted RRs [95% CIs] 1.8 [1.5-2.1], 1.8 [1.3-2.4], and 2.7 [0.8-9.2], respectively), in age-group analyses (18-64 vs 65+ years), and in several sensitivity analyses. The patterns observed for fever mirror the circadian rhythm of body temperature, which reaches its highest and lowest points at similar times.

Conclusion: Fever incidence is lower at morning triages than at evening triages. High fevers are especially rare at morning triage and may warrant special consideration for this reason. Studies should examine whether fever-causing diseases are missed or underappreciated during mornings, especially for sepsis cases and during screenings for infectious disease outbreaks. The daily cycling of fever incidence may result from the circadian rhythm.

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