Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, right? Not so. There is no baseline for humans, and even if there was, it would be closer to 97.7 °F. Temperature also varies across the day, peaking in late afternoon and bottoming out in early morning. It is slightly higher for women than for men as well. For two decades research has debunked the benchmark, set way back in 1868, yet it persists. One important ramification, says Jonathan S. Hausmann, a rheumatologist at Boston Children's Hospital, who led the latest study, is to redefine fever. Most doctors use 100.4 °F or higher, but if “normal” is lower, then the fever threshold should be, too. It also should vary with the daily pattern and be tailored to each individual, Hausmann says: “A child at 99.0 °F at 4 A.M. may be highly abnormal but at 4 P.M. could be within normal limits.”
This article was originally published with the title "Goodbye, 98.6" in Scientific American 319, 6, 96 (December 2018)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Mark Fischetti is a senior editor at Scientific American, overseeing coverage of energy and the environment.