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The Risk of Rectal Temperature Measurement in Neutropenia

Judith Olchowski, Noa Zimhony-Nissim, Lior Nesher, Leonid Barski, Elli Rosenberg, and Iftach Sagy


Background: Avoiding rectal thermometry is recommended in patients with neutropenic fever. Permeability of the anal mucosa may result in a higher risk of bacteremia in these patients. Still, this recommendation is based on only a few studies.

Methods: This retrospective study included all individuals admitted to our emergency department during 2014–2017 with afebrile (body temperature <38.3°C) neutropenia (neutrophil count <500 cells/microL) who were over the age of 18. Patients were stratified by the presence or absence of a rectal temperature measurement. The primary outcome was bacteremia during the first five days of index hospitalization; the secondary outcome was in-hospital mortality.

Results: The study included 40 patients with rectal temperature measurements and 407 patients whose temperatures were only measured orally. Among patients with oral temperature measurements, 10.6% had bacteremia, compared to 5.1% among patients who had rectal temperature measurements. Rectal temperature measurement was not associated with bacteremia, neither in non-matched (odds ratio [OR] 0.36, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.07–1.77) nor in matched cohort analyses (OR 0.37, 95% CI 0.04–3.29). In-hospital mortality was also similar between the groups.

Conclusions: Patients with neutropenia who had their temperature taken using a rectal thermometer did not experience a higher frequency of events of documented bacteremia or increased in-hospital mortality.