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Open Access Publications from the University of California

United States’ Emergency Department Visits for Fever by Young Children 2007-2017


Introduction: Our goal in this study was to estimate rates of emergency department (ED) visits for fever by children <2 years of age, and evaluate frequencies of testing and treatment during these visits.

Methods: We performed a cross-sectional study of ED encounters from 2007-2017 using the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, a cross-sectional, multi-stage probability sample survey of visits to nonfederal United States EDs. We included encounters with a visit reason of “fever” or recorded fever in the ED. We report demographics and management strategies in two groups: infants ≤90 days in age; and children 91 days to <2 years old. For patients 91 days to <2 years, we compared testing and treatment strategies between general and pediatric EDs using chi-squared tests.

Results: Of 1.5 billion encounters over 11 years, 2.1% (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.9-2.2%) were by children <2 years old with fever. Two million encounters (95% CI, 1.7-2.4 million) were by infants ≤90 days, and 28.4 million (95% CI, 25.5-31.4 million) were by children 91 days to <2 years. Among infants ≤90 days, 27.6% (95% CI, 21.1-34.1%) had blood and 21.3% (95% CI, 13.6-29.1%) had urine cultures; 26.8% (95% CI, 20.9-32.7%) were given antibiotics, and 21.1% (95% CI, 15.3-26.9%) were admitted or transferred. Among patients 91 days to <2 years in age, 6.8% (95% CI, 5.8-7.8%) had blood and 7.7% (95% CI 6.1-9.4%) had urine cultures; 40.5% (95% CI, 40.5-40.5%) were given antibiotics, and 4.4% (95% CI, 3.5-5.3%) were admitted or transferred. Patients 91 days to <2 years who were evaluated in general EDs had higher rates of radiography (27.1% vs 15.2%; P<0.01) and antibiotic utilization (42.3% vs 34.2%; P<0.01), but lower rates of urine culture testing (6.4% vs 11.6%, p = 0.03), compared with patients evaluated in pediatric EDs.

Conclusion: Approximately 180,000 patients ≤90 days old and 2.6 million patients 91 days to <2 years in age with fever present to US EDs annually. Given existing guidelines, blood and urine culture performance was low for infants ≤90 days old. For children 91 days to <2 years, rates of radiography and antibiotic use were higher in general EDs compared to pediatric EDs. These findings suggest opportunities to improve care among febrile young children in the ED.

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