Having no-touch thermal body temperature scanners pointed at our foreheads is the new norm and can happen several times a day.
Indeed, for many of us, it’s likely that we’ve had our temperature taken more times in the last 14 months than in our entire lives. Even nail salon point digital thermometers at our foreheads to determine whether we can come in for a pedicure.
Of course, safety procedures to help prevent the spread of COVID are necessary and needed but is taking our temperature really effective at prevention?
“I do not recommend checking temperatures more frequently,” says Dr. Stephanie Bryant, a Community Care Network family medicine practitioner on staff at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart. “There have been many studies that show that temperature screenings are not reliable. Many of the scanners screen skin temperature and not the core body temperature. Also, many patients with COVID-19 do not experience a fever. Check your temperature if you are feeling unwell, if you have been exposed or your child feels warm to touch.”
As the number of people who have been vaccinated against COVID continues to increase, continual temperature taking isn’t necessary, says Dr. Shaun Mehdi, internal medicine specialist at Northwest Medical Group.
“It’s important to understand that though many people consider 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to be normal, throughout the day our temperatures vary and 97 to 99 degrees all are within the normal range,” he says, noting that for some 97 is the norm and a fever is 100.4.
According to Mehdi, a fever is always 100.4 degrees or greater, no matter your baseline temperature.
“You may not feel great if your temperature is 99, but that does not mean you have a true fever,” says Bryant.
“Your fever is just your body’s way of responding to an infection, and is actually healthy,” says Bryant. “If the temperature is what is considered low grade — in the low 100s to 101 degrees, and the patient is able to eat, drink, stay hydrated and is acting normally and the fever responds to fever reducing medications, then it is reasonable to watch for a 24-48 hours.
Children are more likely to have temps of 102-104 degrees, says Bryant. “If they are able to stay hydrated and are awake and alert, it is OK to give them fever reducing medications and watch them at home and see if it resolves in 12 to 24 hours," Bryant says. "Adults as well. However, any fevers associated with lethargy, dehydration, confusion, etc. should be triaged with their primary care provider and evaluated.”
Exceptions include fevers in babies younger than 12 weeks and those undergoing chemotherapy. Any temperature readings in the fever zone require immediate contact with a physician.
There are other exceptions, particularly in a pandemic.
“If you have a fever and already have been diagnosed as having COVID or have other accompanying COVID symptoms, reach out to your primary care doctor,” says Medhi, adding that the most effective temperature gauges are through the mouth or ear.
Being outside on a hot day can cause a person’s body temperature to rise — that is considered hyperthermia. "It does not respond to fever reducing medications,” says Bryant.
Other things can affect body temperature that don't mean we have a fever, "such as being outside in cold or very hot weather, certain types of prescription medications,” says Mehdi.
Even the time of day can cause a different reading because we tend to have higher temperatures in the evening than in the morning, he says, adding that menstrual cycles, alcohol and exercise also can raise body temperature.
“Overall,” he says, “I think it’s important not to take someone’s temperature when they’re coming in from the cold or the heat.”