A computerised model to diagnose fever in young children has been developed by researchers in Australia.
The team said the model could improve early treatment for those with the symptom. Current diagnostic systems and clinical scoring processes have frequently proved inadequate.
Fever, or febrile illness, is particularly common in children under five years of age.
Doctors often struggle to find the cause of the symptom and it is hoped the device will help to distinguish between minor viruses and serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis.
The study involved over 15,000 healthy children under five years of age seen by the emergency department of a large children's hospital over a two-year period. All showed a body temperature of 38ºC or more in the previous 24 hours.
A standard clinical evaluation was performed by physicians, and serious bacterial infections were confirmed or excluded using standard tests and follow-up. The signs and symptoms noted by the physicians were then combined in a diagnostic model and the results were compared.
The data show that urinary tract infection, pneumonia and bacteraemia (bacteria in the blood) occur in about 7% of young children with a fever, but only 70–80% of these children were prescribed antibiotics on initial consultation and 20% of children without an identified bacterial infection were probably over-treated with antibiotics.
The performance of the diagnostic model for each infection was acceptable or better than physician evaluation.