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We read with interest the findings of Maayan-Metzger et al on fever in healthy newborns during the first days of life.1
It is difficult to identify febrile neonates at low risk of serious bacterial infection.2 Although no consensus exists on the optimal approach to diagnosis and treatment, current guidelines recommend that febrile infants less than 28 days of age be admitted to hospital and given intravenous antibiotics for 48–72 hours. However, as mentioned in this report, dehydration is the primary cause of fever especially during the first days of life. We retrospectively reviewed the medical charts of patients admitted to our neonatal intensive care unit with fever between 1 May 1999 and 30 September 2003.
The inclusion criteria were gestational age ≥37 weeks, 1–7 days of postnatal age excluding the first day of life, axillary or rectal temperature ≥37.8°C on admission, normal physical examination with well appearance, no signs of focal infection, and no history of illness or antibiotics.
Overall, 46 febrile neonates were included in the study. Most (90–95%) were exclusively breast fed. Laboratory data included complete blood count, C reactive protein, serum urea and sodium concentrations, urinalysis, and blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid cultures. The mean (SD) age on admission was 3.4 (1.9) days. The mean (SD) duration of fever was 2.8 (2.4) hours. Twenty seven infants (59%) had lost 8–24.3% of their birth weights. In 34 of the babies, white blood cell counts were between 5000 and 15 000/mm3. Serum sodium concentrations were obtained in 35 patients: mean (SD) was 147 (6.7) mmol/l, and in 14 (40%) the levels were equal to or higher than 150 mmol/l. There was a positive correlation between weight loss and high serum sodium concentration (p = 0.002). Mean (SD) serum urea nitrogen concentration was 19.3 (11.1) mmol/l. In 22 (48%) babies, serum bilirubin concentration was equal to or greater than 220 mmol/l.
Cultures were positive in seven babies. Coagulase negative staphylococci were recovered from five blood cultures and considered to be contaminated both clinically and in a negative repeated culture. In one infant, blood culture was positive for Staphylococcus aureus, and Enterococcus grew from culture of the urine in the other. Most admissions (83%) were between June and early October, which are the warmest months of the year in this area. In this low risk group of infants, only two patients had serious bacterial infection. Compatible with the findings of Maayan-Metzger et al,1 the results of our study support dehydration as the main cause of fever during the first week of life. As most of our cases occurred during summer and early autumn, environmental temperature may have an additive effect in this population.