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Body Temperature

Are you hot stuff?

Most of us will have read about the ebola screening that is being undertaken at certain airports, train stations and other locations. A main aspect of this testing is taking the temperature of the person.

Do you remember when we were children and our body temperature was everything? “Oh, you have a temperature, you had better stay in bed?” was something most children growing up in the 50s and 60s would have heard. Temperature was the be all and end all of health. I seem to remember the reading should be 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit, although modern information generally says it is actually 98.6F, or 37C.

This idea of a normal body temperature is attributed to a 19th century German physician Dr Carl Wunderlich. He did his research by taking temperature readings from thousands of patients and he came up with the 37C benchmark for the normal body temperature.

Since then there has been some dispute; for instance in 1992 an American evaluation based on nearly 150 patients showed the normal temperature was around 36.8C.

There is also dispute that there is an actual “normal” one size fits all temperature for everyone. Body temperature can be affected by a number of variants such as age and also what part of the body the temperature is taken from. For instance, a reading from the armpit will be about 0.5C lower than the body’s core temperature. Body temperature is also sensitive to hormone levels and it also can change throughout the day depending on how active you are and also the time of day your temperature is taken.

Allowing for the variations we now know can happen, if your average temperature is between 36.1C (97F) to 37.2C (99F) it would be considered normal.

Obviously any real change in your normal temperature, either up or down, is still an indication that something is wrong; but a big change in our lifetime is the way one can take body temperature. Many homes still have those original mercury in glass thermometers that you pop under your tongue but today these are not in favour. They can break releasing small shards of glass and highly poisonous mercury.

Modern digital thermometers are the usual way now, either popping them under your armpit or into your mouth which will result in an automatic reading. You can buy these cheaply at any good chemist and are a useful addition to your first aid kit.

Ear thermometers are also good but they are more expensive. They do need to be correctly placed in the ear to ensure an accurate reading.

A popular way to take a temperature, especially with grandkids, it with strip type thermometers. You simply hold these against the skin, usually on the forehead, and they show a clear digital reading of the temperature. However, do bear in mind this is the temperature of the skin and not the core body heat, so it is only a general indication at best.

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