Dump the Mercury Thermometer: Here’s How to Take Your Temperature

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When it comes to COVID-19, gauging your temperature by touching the back of your hand to your forehead just isn’t going to cut it.

Fever is one of the signs of the virus but, even beyond COVID-19, knowing your body’s temperature is an important way to manage any illness.

The body’s normal temperature is 98.6 degrees fahrenheit, but it can vary by a degree or two from one person to another. Fevers – an adult body temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher — are typically caused by infections and signal your body is trying to fight off the infection.

To take your temperature, you don’t need to have a fancy temporal artery device for scanning the forehead like they do in physician offices and hospitals. A digital thermometer found at the pharmacy or supermarket works just fine. For infants and children under four, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a rectal thermometer.

To get an accurate temperature with a digital thermometer, the AAP suggests these options:

  • By mouth. Insert the thermometer’s probe under your tongue and close your lips over it tightly to hold it in place. Leave it in your mouth for three minutes or until it beeps.
  • In the armpit (also called the axillary method). Place the probe end of the thermometer in your armpit and press your arm tightly over it, holding it against your body. Wait five minutes. This method is less accurate than oral.

Experts suggest adding a degree to readings found through these methods. Rectal thermometers are most accurate while oral and axillary readings are half to one degree lower.

If it’s been a while since you’ve used a thermometer at home and pull a glass one containing mercury from the medicine cabinet, do not use it. We now know the mercury is poisonous. Call your local Department of Public Works because mercury is considered hazardous waste and cannot be thrown in the trash.

Also, for an accurate temperature, do not use plastic strip thermometers or those run by apps on your smartphone.

When using a thermometer, it’s important to clean it first with cool, soapy water and rubbing alcohol. Repeat the cleaning afterward.

Fever is only one of the symptoms of COVID-19.

“This novel coronavirus causes a respiratory illness manifested by fever, cough and difficulty breathing,” said Dr. Virginia Bieluch, chief of infectious diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.

Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor.

Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily.

Questions? Call our 24-hour hotline (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600). 

Get text alerts by texting 31996 with COVID19 in the message field.


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