Background: Necropsy studies from Africa have shown that Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) is common in infants with HIV infection. We aimed to describe the rate, clinical presentation, and outcome of PCP in young Malawian children with acute severe pneumonia.
Methods: Children aged between 2 months and 5 years who were in hospital with a diagnosis of severe pneumonia were admitted to a study ward for clinical monitoring. We carried out blood culture, immunofluorescence on nasopharyngeal aspirate samples to test for PCP, polymerase chain reaction to detect HIV, and chest radiography.
Findings: 16 cases of PCP were identified among 150 children with radiologically confirmed severe pneumonia. All were HIV-positive and younger than 6 months. 21 children had bacterial pneumonia (including one who was also PCP positive) and 114 were not confirmed. The most common bacterial pathogens among children without PCP were Streptococcus pneumoniae (eight) and non-typhoidal salmonellae (seven). On admission, children with confirmed PCP had a lower mean age, body temperature, and oxygen saturation than children with bacterial pneumonia and were less likely to have a focal abnormality on auscultation. Oxygen requirements were much greater in children with PCP than those with bacterial pneumonias (96 of 105 hospital days vs 15 of 94, p<0.0001). Ten of 16 children with PCP and six of 21 with bacterial pneumonia died (relative risk 2.19 [95% CI 1.0-4.7]). The overall case-fatality rate of severe pneumonia was 22%. In addition to a strong association with PCP, a fatal outcome was significantly and independently associated with HIV infection (2.98 [1.1-7.9]) and with age under 6 months (2.76 [1.0-5.2]).
Interpretation: PCP is common and contributes to the high mortality from pneumonia in Malawian infants. Clinical features are helpful in diagnosis. The study highlights the impact of HIV infection and difficult issues of management in countries with few resources.