Define fever as 37.5 degrees in campus coronavirus screening: expert

02/18/2020 08:00 PM
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Professor Su Ta-chen (蘇大成, left) at press conference held by National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health.
Professor Su Ta-chen (蘇大成, left) at press conference held by National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health.

Taipei, Feb. 18 (CNA) Campus screening for COVID-19 coronavirus should use a standard of 37.5 degrees Celsius, rather than 38 degrees, to define a fever, National Taiwan University's College of Public Health said Tuesday.

The recommendation comes as Taiwan's students prepare to return to classes on Feb. 25, following a Ministry of Education (MOE) decision to extend winter vacation by 15 days in response to the coronavirus.

As a preventative measure, the ministry said Saturday that it is distributing 25,000 forehead thermometers to schools around the country in order to conduct daily temperature checks at all primary and secondary school campuses.

At a press conference, Su Ta-chen (蘇大成), a professor at the college's Institute of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, said that recent studies show the average human body temperature is decreasing, meaning that traditional standards -- which view 37 degrees as a normal body temperature and 38 degrees as the threshold for a fever -- are in need of adjustment.

Noting that 20 percent of coronavirus patients exhibit temperatures of between 37.3 and 38 degrees, Su described a standard of 37.5 degrees as "already quite relaxed."

According to Su, the accuracy of forehead thermometers can be affected by external factors, such as the weather or recent consumption of hot or cold beverages.

To guarantee accuracy, Su recommended that schools follow uniform testing procedures.

If someone's results are above 37.5 degrees, they should wait five minutes and be tested again. If the results are still high, they should be tested a third time using an ear thermometer, he said.

At the same time, schools should allow students to take sick leave without requiring a doctor's note, and discourage the attendance of any student who feels unwell, he said.

On Feb. 10, Su suggested Taiwan adopt the 37.4 degree standard for diagnosing fevers that is currently used in Wuhan and other areas of China. He did not explain Tuesday why he is recommending schools adopt a 37.5 degree standard, other than to say it is a comparatively "relaxed" threshold.

In response to the comments, Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said Tuesday that the Central Epidemic Command Center is planning to inform schools of the exact procedures and standards to be used during body temperature screening.

Given that forehead thermometers are external and can sometimes err on the low side, initial screening will use a 37.5 degree standard, Chuang said.

For those testing over 37.5, a second test will be taken using an ear thermometer, with a fever defined as anything over 38 degrees, Chuang said.

(By Chen Chih-chung and Matthew Mazzetta)


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