“No” has been, and continues to be, the resounding answer over the last 40 years as researchers and clinicians work to determine the optimal evaluation and management of the well-appearing young febrile infant .
The goal remains to identify infants with bacterial infections in this at-risk cohort of patients while also considering the balance of cost-effectiveness on a population scale and the potential for iatrogenic harm with evaluation such as unnecessary lumbar punctures, unnecessary antibiotics, and unnecessary hospitalization. Fortunately, bacteremia and bacterial meningitis in this age group are uncommon . Unfortunately, delayed or missed diagnosis can be devastating [1-3].
In the most recent 2021 Clinical Practice Guideline, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) aims to provide guidance with 3 separate age-based algorithms for the evaluation and management of the well-appearing febrile infant . These guidelines were made possible by the recent PECARN, Step by Step, and other studies and the invaluable information they have provided [5-7].
Well-appearing febrile infants
The AAP acknowledges that clinician experience is likely the best determinate of what is “well-appearing”, further admitting that there is no measure or definition of either “experience” or “well-appearing”
Rectal temperatures of 38.0C or 100.4F at home in the past 24 hours or determined in a clinical setting
Subjective fevers at home are excluded
Between 37-42 weeks
Premature infants excluded
Days 8 to 60 and have been discharged home following birth
Who is not included?
Preterm or infants with congenital/chromosomal abnormalities
While the AAP makes the distinction of an age 0-7 days group from the age 8-21 days, they provide no specific recommendations about emergency department (ED) management in the youngest group . Despite this, these infant groups are likely best evaluated and managed similarly in the ED:
Urinalysis (UA) +/- urine culture if indicated by UA
Although many febrile infants in this group will still require a full evaluation for sepsis, there are some new alternatives in patients meeting certain criteria. At the minimum, all 22-28 day old infants will need:
UA +/- culture
Inflammatory markers (ANC, CRP, procalcitonin)
Further management of a well-appearing infant in this group can be based on the following pathways:
If UA positive with negative inflammatory markers
LP may be performed but is not required
IV antibiotics and admission are required regardless
If UA negative with negativeinflammatory markers, then there are 2 options
If LP negative, then the patient can be given a dose of parenteral antibiotics and discharged home with close follow-up in 24 hours.
If LP is traumatic or pleocytosis is present, administer antibiotics and admit.
Antibiotics may be administered, but the patient should be admitted.
If UA negative and ANY positive inflammatory marker (procalcitonin > 0.5 mg/mL, CRP >20 mg/L, ANC >4000, or temperature >101.3F), LP is required
If LP positive
Admit with IV antibiotics
If LP negative
Admit +/- antibiotics, OR
Discharge home after one dose of parenteral antibiotic with 24-hour follow-up
The nuances of this group’s decision tree revolve around the inflammatory markers.
Each infant in this group should have the following completed:
Inflammatory markers (CRP, ANC, and procalcitonin)
If everything is negative (UA & inflammatory markers):
Infants may be discharged home without antibiotics and with close follow-up within 36 hours.
If inflammatory markers are negative:
Infants with a positive urinalysis and negativeinflammatory markers may be treated with oral antibiotics.
They may be either admitted to the hospital for observation or discharged with 24-hour follow-up.
No LP needed.
If inflammatory markers are positive:
A LP may be performed if the clinician feels it necessary but is not required.
If performed and CSF is negative the infant may be discharged with close follow-up.
Given high risk of bacteremia with elevated inflammatory markers in this age group, a dose of parenteral antibiotics prior to discharge is appropriate.
If LP deferred:
Administer parenteral antibiotics, and likely admit to hospital.
The caveat to this is if they have viral testing completed that is positive and are well appearing.
Example: A 48-day-old infant presents with a fever of 100.6F, CRP of 22 mg/L, and otherwise normal procalcitonin, ANC, and UA. The mother reports that an older brother has had a runny nose. Viral PCR testing is positive for rhinovirus. Seeing as the UA is negative, the infant appears well with a positive viral test, they may go home with shared decision-making and close outpatient follow-up, despite a positive inflammatory marker (CRP 22 mg/L) .
Urinary Tract Infection:
Ceftriaxone (IV/IM) or cephalexin/cefixime as oral options.
Concern for Bacteremia/Meningitis:
Ceftriaxone + vancomycin
May add acyclovir for the above-mentioned antiviral treatment indications.
What should be done if the viral panel is positive?
Children 29 days or older with fever from a documented viral source can be managed according to their clinical presentation and can go outside the algorithm.
This requires a documented positive viral swab and not just a presentation consistent with a viral syndrome.
UTI is common in this age group, and a UA should be obtained .
Over the course of nearly the last half century there has been a lack of clear evidence-based guidelines in evaluating the young febrile infant . Although serious bacterial infections in these young, febrile infants are uncommon, studies show that in the first month of life, bacteremia can be present in nearly 3% of febrile infants, with bacterial meningitis occurring in about 1% . The absence of consensus regarding management has led to significant costs due to hospitalizations and their associated iatrogenic complications . In the movement to create new recommendations, shifting epidemiology pushed changes in previous guidelines with a new focus on the use of the now widely available inflammatory markers . With the advent of multiple large-scale studies and the recent improvements in lab testing, the newly updated AAP guidelines provide recommendations on how to manage this challenging population [4-7].
Take Home Points
These management strategies can only be used in WELL-APPEARING infants – if they’re ill-appearing, do a complete workup.
Evaluation of febrile infants 0-21 days remains the same – do everything (blood culture, UA +/- culture, LP with CSF studies), give antibiotics, and admit.
For those infants 22-28 days, get the UA, blood culture, and inflammatory markers to guide management.
Not all febrile infants in the 22-28 day subset need an LP, though it should still be obtained in certain clinical circumstances, and discussed between provider and parents in other situations
In infants ≤28 days, a complete workup is still needed even if a viral source is present.
Febrile infants 29-60 days old may be sent home after a negative workup with close follow-up.
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