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Open Access Research article

Comparability of tympanic and oral mercury thermometers at high ambient temperatures

Amy L Chue123*, Rachael L Moore1, Andrew Cavey1, Elizabeth A Ashley123, Kasia Stepniewska2, François Nosten123 and Rose McGready123

Author Affiliations

1 Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, 68/30 Baantung Road, PO Box 46, Mae Sot, Tak 63110, Thailand

2 Mahidol-Oxford Clinical Research Unit, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, 420/6 Ratchawithi Road, Ratchathewi, Bangkok 10400, Thailand

3 Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, Churchill Hospital, Oxford OX3 7LJ, UK

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:356  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-356

Published: 16 July 2012



Body temperature can be measured in seconds with tympanic thermometers as opposed to minutes with mercury ones. The aim of this study was to compare tympanic and oral mercury thermometer measurements under high ambient field temperatures.


Tympanic temperature (measured thrice by 3 operators) was compared to oral temperature measured once with a mercury-in-glass thermometer in 201 patients (aged ≥5 years), on the Thai-Myanmar border. Ambient temperature was measured with an electronic thermo-hygrometer. Participants had a mean [min-max] age of 27 [5–60] years and 42% (84) were febrile by oral thermometer. The mean difference in the mercury and tympanic temperature measurement for all observers/devices was 0.09 (95%CI 0.07-0.12)°C and intra-class correlation for repeat tympanic measurements was high (≥0.97) for each observer. Deviations in tympanic temperatures were not related to ambient temperature.


Clinically significant differences were not observed between oral and tympanic temperature measurements at high ambient temperatures in a rural tropical setting.

Ambient temperature; Oral mercury thermometer; Tympanic thermometer; Tropical setting