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Supporting decisions to increase the safe discharge of children with febrile illness from the emergency department: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. A D Irwin1,
  2. J Wickenden2,
  3. K Le Doare2,
  4. S Ladhani2,
  5. M Sharland3
  1. 1Paediatric Infectious Disease Unit, St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  2. 2St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  3. 3Paediatric Infectious Disease Research Group, St George's University of London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Adam Irwin, Paediatric Infectious Disease Unit, 5th Floor Lanesborough Wing, St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London SW17 0QT, UK; adam.irwin{at}


Background Despite fewer serious infections presenting to the children's emergency department (ED), hospital admissions of children with febrile illness have increased. We review evidence for the use of decision rules to increase the safe discharge of these children from the ED.

Methods A systematic review of prospective studies of decision rules for the discharge of children with febrile illness, and prediction rules for the diagnosis of serious infections in children presenting to ED. We reviewed the MEDLINE database, Cochrane Library and hand searched the bibliographies of related studies. The search was limited to the English language.

Results Thirty-three studies were identified. Fourteen reported low-risk criteria to rule out serious bacterial infection (SBI) in infants less than 3 months of age. In this group, clinical tools such as the Rochester and Philadelphia criteria support the safe discharge of low-risk infants without empirical antibiotics. Seventeen studies reported prediction rules in older children, though only four included children over 3 years. Two impact studies based upon multivariable prediction models failed to demonstrate any impact on rates of discharge from ED.

Conclusions The use of clinical prediction models can improve discrimination between serious and self-limiting infections in children. The application of low-risk thresholds may help to rule out serious infections and discharge children from the ED without empirical antibiotics. A growing evidence base for prediction rules has so far failed to translate into validated rules to aid decision-making. Future work should evaluate decision rules in well designed impact studies, focusing on the need for hospital admission and antibiotic therapy.

  • Accident & Emergency
  • Infectious Diseases
  • General Paediatrics
  • Health Service

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