Background: There are no published data for the incidence or etiology of childhood bacteremia in Malawi. We describe the clinical and microbiologic features of children admitted to hospital from whom blood cultures yielded bacterial pathogens.
Methods: Any neonate or child admitted to the pediatric wards of the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital had a blood culture taken in the event of fever without obvious clinical explanation. Clinical and microbiologic data were prospectively collected for children with a significant positive culture.
Results: Between September, 1996, and August, 1997, we processed 2,123 cultures. Of these, 365 (17.2%) grew a pathogen. Non-typhi salmonellae (NTS) and enteric Gram-negative bacilli constituted 67.4% of isolates, and Streptococcus pneumoniae constituted 16.4%. More than two-thirds of NTS episodes coincided with the peak malaria transmission season (January to June); 67% of bacteremic children were malnourished, 28% severely so. Patients with NTS bacteremia were significantly more likely to have coincident malaria and to have splenomegaly and anemia than children with other infecting organisms. The overall mortality was 38% but varied considerably according to age and nutritional status. Prior antibiotic use, coincident malaria or meningitis did not adversely affect outcome. In vitro resistance to the commonly available antibiotics ampicillin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole was found in 76 and 71% of NTS isolates. Screening tests for penicillin resistance suggested a rate of 21% among pneumococci.
Conclusions: Bacteremia is common in hospitalized Malawian children and has a high mortality. There are high rates of resistance to some of the commonly used antibacterial agents.