Parents' management of childhood fever

Walsh, Anne Majella (2007) Parents' management of childhood fever. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Despite decades of research about educational interventions to correct parents' childhood fever management their knowledge remains poor and practices continue to be based on beliefs about harmful outcomes. The purpose of this thesis was to 1) identify Australian parents' fever management knowledge, attitudes, practices and methods of learning to manage fever and 2) undertake a theoretical exploration of the determinants of parents' intentions to reduce fever using the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). Two studies were undertaken: a qualitative study with 15 parents; and survey of 401 Queensland parents with a child aged between 6 months and 5 years.

Parents determine childhood fever through behavioural changes they have learnt to associate with fever. Few were aware of the immunological beneficial effects associated with fever and most believed fever harmful causing febrile convulsions and brain damage. To prevent harm they monitored temperatures, used antipyretics, dressed children in light clothing and sponged them with tepid, cool or cold water.

Despite believing antipyretics harmful most parents reduced temperatures of 38.3 degrees Celsius ± 0.6 degrees Celsius with antipyretics, alternating two antipyretics when fever was not reduced or returned. In addition to temperature reduction antipyretics were used to reduce distress or general unwellness and pain or discomfort. Multiple factors were used to determine antipyretic dosage including temperature, irritability and illness severity. Over one-third of parents had overdosed their child with too frequent antipyretic administration; more frequently with ibuprofen than paracetamol, 12:1.

Fever management information was learnt from numerous sources. Doctors were the most frequently reported followed by personal experience. With the variety of information sources nearly half received conflicting information about how to manage fever increasing concerns and creating uncertainty about how to best care for their child. Despite this many believed they knew how to manage fever.

Some parents' practices changed over time as a result of either positive or negative experiences with fever indicating more positive or negative attitudes toward fever.

Positive experiences reduced antipyretic and medical service use; negative ones had the adverse effect with increase in antipyretic use including alternating antipyretics and double dosing with one antipyretic. Child medication behaviours also influenced attitudes and practice intentions. Parents of children who readily took antipyretics had more negative attitudes and intended to reduce their child's next fever with antipyretics. Negative attitudes were a significant determinant of fever management intentions.

Parents' practices were strongly influenced by their perception that doctors and partners expected them to reduce fever. This expectation from partners is understandable; from doctors it is not and indicates doctors' propensity to recommend reducing fever. There is an urgent need to identify doctors' fever management beliefs and rationales for practice recommendations. Parents also learn to manage fever from nurses and pharmacists; their beliefs and management rationales must also be determined and addressed.

There is an urgent need to educate parents about evidence-based fever management and reduce their unnecessary antipyretic use. They must be encouraged to delay antipyretic administration using them to reduce pain rather than fever. Findings from this thesis have identified the determinants of parents' intentions to reduce fever; negative attitudes and normative influences and positive child medication behaviours. Future studies should examine the efficiency and cost effectiveness of fever management educational programs for parents using different presentation methods in multiple settings.

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ID Code: 16522
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Edwards, Helen & Fraser, Jennifer
Additional Information: Recipient 2007 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award
Keywords: childhood illness; child nursing; community care, decision making; evidence-based practice; fever; focus groups; general paediatrics; health education; information needs; instrument development; literature review; medications; medication management; parental attitudes; parenting; public health nursing; s, ODTA
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Nursing
Department: Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Anne Majella Walsh
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:05
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2013 06:14

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