What Constitutes a Fever?

As many guidelines create special conditions for people with fevers, the question arises: How high does your temperature have to be to be considered a true fever?

Fever is one of the symptoms to look for with coronavirus, and people experiencing a fever are advised to stay home from work, avoid even the people they have been quarantining with, and immediately halt any public outings, including shopping for essentials.

But what, exactly, does “fever” mean? Should you stop everything for a temperature of 98.7? First, let’s explore what a fever is: A fever is any temperature which is above the normal body temperature. Exercise, hot weather and an allergic reaction can elevate your temperature. A fever is actually your body’s response to an illness. It is a good thing as it illustrates your body is trying to fight off something. Normal body temperature is between 97.5 and 98.9. Your temperature can be lower in the morning and higher in the evening.

The CDC’s Guidelines


  • The CDC considers a person to have a fever when he or she has a measured temperature of at least 100.4 °F [38 °C] orally.
  • Fever may be considered to be present if a person has not had a temperature measurement but feels warm to the touch, flushed, or gives a history of feeling feverish. 

Determining a Fever if No Thermometer is Available

Even though measured temperature is the preferred and most accurate method to determine fever, it is not always possible to do this. In certain situations, other methods of detecting a possible fever should be considered:

  • Self-reported history of feeling feverish when a thermometer is not available or the ill person has taken medication that would lower the measured temperature.
  • Appearance of a flushed face, glassy eyes, or chills if it is not feasible to touch the person or if the person does not report feeling feverish
  • In a pinch, a digital meat thermometer will work. Sanitize it first, then put it under your tongue like a normal thermometer. Just be careful with that pointed end!

Additional Resources

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