Intended for healthcare professionals

Information In Practice

Reliability of health information for the public on the world wide web: systematic survey of advice on managing fever in children at home

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 28 June 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1875
  1. Piero Impicciatorea, research fellow,
  2. Chiara Pandolfini, research fellowa,
  3. Nicola Casella, research fellowa,
  4. Maurizio Bonati, heada
  1. a Laboratory for Mother and Child Health Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri”, Via Eritrea 62, 20157 Milan, Italy
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Bonati
  • Accepted 28 May 1997


Objective: To assess the reliability of healthcare information on the world wide web and therefore how it may help lay people cope with common health problems.

Methods: Systematic search by means of two search engines, Yahoo and Excite, of parent oriented web pages relating to home management of feverish children. Reliability of information on the web sites was checked by comparison with published guidelines.

Main outcome measures: Minimum temperature of child that should be considered as fever, optimal sites for measuring temperature, pharmacological and physical treatment of fever, conditions that may warrant a doctor's visit.

Results: 41 web pages were retrieved and considered. 28 web pages gave a temperature above which a child is feverish; 26 pages indicated the optimal site for taking temperature, most recommending rectal measurement; 31 of the 34 pages that mentioned drug treatment recommended paracetamol as an antipyretic; 38 pages recommended non-drug measures, most commonly tepid sponging, dressing lightly, and increasing fluid intake; and 36 pages gave some indication of when a doctor should be called. Only four web pages adhered closely to the main recommendations in the guidelines. The largest deviations were in sponging procedures and how to take a child's temperature, whereas there was a general agreement in the use of paracetamol.

Conclusions: Only a few web sites provided complete and accurate information for this common and widely discussed condition. This suggests an urgent need to check public oriented healthcare information on the internet for accuracy, completeness, and consistency.

Key messages

  • Fever in children is a common problem, and accurate information on home management of feverish children could be useful for parents

  • A systematic search on the world wide web for such parent oriented information retrieved 41 web pages, but only four adhered closely to published guidelines for home management of childhood fever

  • These findings suggest the urgent need to check public oriented healthcare information on the internet for accuracy, completeness, and consistency

  • Information on the internet should not be a substitute for routine care by family doctors


    • Accepted 28 May 1997
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