Understanding fever: reasons for body temperature below 98.6 degrees

  • 2 Min To Read
  • 8 months ago

In recent decades, evidence has surfaced suggesting that the average human body temperature is not actually 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as previously believed. A study conducted between 2008 and 2017 found that the average body temperature is closer to 97.9 degrees. This challenges the standard set by German physician Dr. Carl Wunderlich over 150 years ago, who established 98.6 degrees as the average based on a large sample size.

Experts have varying opinions on why body temperature may have decreased over time and whether this has implications for diagnosing fevers and infections. Some believe it could be due to differences in measurement methods and standards between Dr. Wunderlich's time and modern practices. Factors such as where the temperature is taken, the time of day, and external conditions can also influence readings.

Other experts argue that humans have actually become cooler over the past century and a half due to improved health and medical advancements. It is possible that historical samples had slightly elevated temperatures from low-grade inflammation, which has decreased with better treatment of infections and improved healthcare.

Regardless of the reason for the shift, experts agree that 98.6 degrees should no longer be considered the universal human standard. Instead, they suggest providing a range to account for natural temperature variability across genders and ages. Just as there is a range for heart rate and blood pressure, body temperature should be understood as having a range as well.

The redefinition of "normal" body temperature raises questions about what qualifies as a fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently defines a fever as a temperature of 100.4 degrees or above, but if the average body temperature is lower, this threshold may need to be adjusted.

Some experts advocate for a personalized approach to fever, where each individual is compared against their own baseline temperature. However, others argue that this may not be feasible given time constraints in healthcare settings. Instead, they propose placing less emphasis on fever as a sole indicator and considering it alongside other symptoms.

In conclusion, the average human body temperature is not 98.6 degrees as previously believed. There are differing opinions on why this shift has occurred, but experts agree that 98.6 degrees should no longer be considered the standard. A range should be provided instead, and the approach to diagnosing fevers may need to be reconsidered.


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