One of the problems during this pandemic is the ongoing issues around fever. A child is ready to go to school but has a stomachache. Mom takes his temperature, and it registers as a fever. Does he have COVID? When can he go back to school? The first question should be whether he has a “fever.”

Feeling a child’s forehead is quick — but certainly not an exact method. Using a digital thermometer is the best way to know if your child has a fever. A normal temperature for a child ranges from 97 degrees to 100.4 degrees. A fever is a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher. describes the types of digital thermometers: A digital forehead (temporal) thermometer uses infrared light to measure the temperature under the skin on the forehead. Most new models don’t have to touch the forehead, so schools and other groups may use them to reduce risk of spreading germs; a digital thermometer with a metal probe measures temperature either in the mouth or the rectum; and a digital ear (tympanic) thermometer uses infrared light to measure temperature inside the ear.

Forehead thermometers can be used on children of any age by following the instructions on the package showing how to aim the sensor across the forehead. The temperature is on the digital screen. Using the forehead thermometers in direct sunlight may affect readings.

Rectal thermometers give the best reading for infants 3 months and younger. Guardians should follow directions for taking a child’s temperature on the box or on the website.

Mouth thermometers can be used for children 4 years old and able to cooperate. If they drank something cold or hot, wait 30 minutes. The metal tip is placed under the tongue toward the back of the mouth and held in place until there’s a beep.

Ear thermometers can be used on children 6 months of age and older. Pull the ear back and place in the ear canal, aiming the tip of the probe between the opposite ear and eye.

Using a digital thermometer under the arm, fever strips and pacifier thermometers aren’t as accurate.

Fever is one of the ways the body fights infection. COVID isn’t the only infection that causes fever but being careful about getting accurate temperatures will help the decisions about how to proceed with school attendance.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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