Background: Despite improvements in infant mortality rates in many developing countries including The Gambia, neonatal mortality remains high and many neonatal deaths are caused by infection. The study described in this paper was conducted to determine the bacterial and viral etiology of serious infections in Gambian infants younger than 91 days old.
Methods: At a first level health facility 497 infants with symptoms that could indicate serious infection were enrolled, of whom 239 with 1 or more signs of serious infection and 55 with no signs were investigated, yielding 17 cases with positive bacterial cultures of blood and/or cerebrospinal fluid. At a nearby pediatric referral hospital 198 infants were seen and 182 were investigated, yielding 35 positive bacterial cultures.
Results: There were 15 culture positive cases of meningitis caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae (7), Streptococcus pyogenes (2), Enterobacter cloacae (2), Escherichia coli (1), Haemophilus influenzae type b (1), Streptococcus agalactiae (1) and Salmonella spp. (1). Six of these children died. Thirty-three infants without meningitis had positive blood cultures for Staphylococcus aureus (17), S. pneumoniae (3), Salmonella spp. (5), E. coli (3), other enterobacteria (4) and S. agalactiae (1), of whom 14 died. Nasopharyngeal aspirates from 438 children were investigated for common respiratory viruses. Respiratory syncytial virus was found in 51, influenza A in 46, influenza B in 22, parainfluenza in 26 and adenovirus in 16. Respiratory syncytial virus and influenza A isolates were found most frequently toward the end of the wet season. Nasopharyngeal carriage of S. pneumoniae and H. influenzae was studied in 320 infants recruited during the first year. Of these 184 (58%) were positive for S. pneumoniae and 141 (44%) were positive for H. influenzae, 18 of which were type b. Infants with a bacterial isolate from blood or cerebrospinal fluid were more likely than the rest to die, whereas those with a viral isolate were less likely to die.
Conclusions: The most important causes of serious infections in young Gambian infants are Staphylococcus aureus, S. pneumoniae and Salmonella spp.