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April 1, 2020, 9:33 a.m. EDT

Modern studies suggest the ‘normal’ body temperature of 98.6° is a degree too high

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By Jo Craven McGinty


Associated Press
Journalists’ and White House employees’ temperatures are checked by medical staff at the complex’s perimeter on March 16, three days after President Trump, who previously had downplayed the risk posed by the new coronavirus to public health and the economy, shifted course and called it a national emergency.

Nearly 150 years ago, a German physician analyzed a million temperatures from 25,000 patients and concluded that normal human-body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

That standard has been published in numerous medical texts and helped generations of parents judge the gravity of a child’s illness.

But at least two dozen modern studies have concluded the number is too high.

The findings have prompted speculation that the pioneering analysis published in 1869 by Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich was flawed.

Or was it?

In a new study, researchers from Stanford University argue that Wunderlich’s number was correct at the time but is no longer accurate because the human body has changed.

Today, they say, the average normal human-body temperature is closer to 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Coronavirus update: Latest figures on COVID-19 infections, plus front-line dispatches, and investing and lifestyle guidance for coping with a pandemic

An expanded version of this report appeared at WSJ.com.

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