AAP Releases Guidelines for Febrile Infants

Heidi Splete, MDedge News

August 13, 2021

The long-anticipated American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for the treatment of well-appearing febrile infants have arrived, and key points include updated guidance for cerebrospinal fluid testing and urine cultures, according to Robert Pantell, MD, and Kenneth Roberts, MD, who presented the guidelines at the virtual Pediatric Hospital Medicine annual conference.

The AAP guideline was published in the August 2021 issue of Pediatrics. The guideline includes 21 key action statements and 40 total recommendations, and describes separate management algorithms for three age groups: infants aged 8-21 days, 22-28 days, and 29-60 days.

Roberts, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Pantell, of the University of California, San Francisco, emphasized that all pediatricians should read the full guideline, but they offered an overview of some of the notable points.

Some changes that drove the development of evidence-based guideline included changes in technology, such as the increased use of procalcitonin, the development of large research networks for studies of sufficient size, and a need to reduce the costs of unnecessary care and unnecessary trauma for infants, Roberts said. Use of data from large networks such as the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network provided enough evidence to support dividing the aged 8- to 60-day population into three groups.

The guideline applies to well-appearing term infants aged 8-60 days and at least 37 weeks' gestation, with fever of 38° C (100.4° F) or higher in the past 24 hours in the home or clinical setting. The decision to exclude infants in the first week of life from the guideline was because at this age, infants "are sufficiently different in rates and types of illness, including early-onset bacterial infection," according to the authors.

Roberts emphasized that the guidelines apply to "well-appearing infants," which is not always obvious. "If a clinician is not confident an infant is well appearing, the clinical practice guideline should not be applied," he said.

The guideline also includes a visual algorithm for each age group.

Pantell summarized the key action statements for the three age groups, and encouraged pediatricians to review the visual algorithms and footnotes available in the full text of the guideline.

The guideline includes seven key action statements for each of the three age groups. Four of these address evaluations, using urine, blood culture, inflammatory markers (IM), and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). One action statement focuses on initial treatment, and two on management: hospital admission versus monitoring at home, and treatment cessation.

Infants Aged 8–21 Days

The key action statements for well-appearing infants aged 8-21 days are similar to what clinicians likely would do for ill-appearing infants, the authors noted, based in part on the challenge of assessing an infant this age as "well appearing," because they don't yet have the ability to interact with the clinician.

For the 8- to 21-day group, the first two key actions are to obtain a urine specimen and blood culture, Pantell said. Also, clinicians "should" obtain a CSF for analysis and culture. "We recognize that the ability to get CSF quickly is a challenge," he added. However, for the 8- to 21-day age group, a new feature is that these infants may be discharged if the CSF is negative. Evaluation in this youngest group states that clinicians "may assess inflammatory markers" including height of fever, absolute neutrophil count, C-reactive protein, and procalcitonin.

Treatment of infants in the 8- to 21-day group "should" include parenteral antimicrobial therapy, according to the guideline, and these infants "should" be actively monitored in the hospital by nurses and staff experienced in neonatal care, Pantell said. The guideline also includes a key action statement to stop antimicrobials at 24-36 hours if cultures are negative, but to treat identified organisms.

Infants Aged 22–28 Days

In both the 22- to 28-day-old and 29- to 60-day-old groups, the guideline offers opportunities for less testing and treatment, such as avoiding a lumbar puncture, and fewer hospitalizations. The development of a separate guideline for the 22- to 28-day group is something new, said Pantell. The guideline states that clinicians should obtain urine specimens and blood culture, and should assess IM in this group. Further key action statements note that clinicians "should obtain a CSF if any IM is positive," but "may" obtain CSF if the infant is hospitalized, if blood and urine cultures have been obtained, and if none of the IMs are abnormal.

As with younger patients, those with a negative CSF can go home, he said. As for treatment, clinicians "should" administer parenteral antimicrobial therapy to infants managed at home even if they have a negative CSF and urinalysis (UA), and no abnormal inflammatory markers Other points for management of infants in this age group at home include verbal teaching and written instructions for caregivers, plans for a re-evaluation at home in 24 hours, and a plan for communication and access to emergency care in case of a change in clinical status, Pantell explained. The guideline states that infants "should" be hospitalized if CSF is either not obtained or not interpretable, which leaves room for clinical judgment and individual circumstances. Antimicrobials "should" be discontinued in this group once all cultures are negative after 24-36 hours and no other infection requires treatment.

Infants Aged 29–60 Days

For the 29- to 60-day group, there are some differences, the main one is the recommendation of blood cultures in this group, said Pantell. "We are seeing a lot of UTIs [urinary tract infections], and we would like those treated." However, clinicians need not obtain a CSF if other IMs are normal, but may do so if any IM is abnormal. Antimicrobial therapy may include ceftriaxone or cephalexin for UTIs, or vancomycin for bacteremia.

Although antimicrobial therapy is an option for UTIs and bacterial meningitis, clinicians "need not" use antimicrobials if CSF is normal, if UA is negative, and if no IMs are abnormal, Pantell added. Overall, further management of infants in this oldest age group should focus on discharge to home in the absence of abnormal findings, but hospitalization in the presence of abnormal CSF, IMs, or other concerns.

During a question-and-answer session, Roberts said that, while rectal temperature is preferable, any method is acceptable as a starting point for applying the guideline. Importantly, the guideline still leaves room for clinical judgment. "We hope this will change some thinking as far as whether one model fits all," he noted. The authors tried to temper the word "should" with the word "may" when possible, so clinicians can say: "I'm going to individualize my decision to the infant in front of me."

Ultimately, the guideline is meant as a guide, and not an absolute standard of care, the authors said. The language of the key action statements includes the words "should, may, need not" in place of "must, must not." The guideline recommends factoring family values and preferences into any treatment decisions. "Variations, taking into account individual circumstances, may be appropriate."

The guideline received no outside funding. The authors had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on The Hospitalist, an official publication of the Society of Hospital Medicine.

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