Aetiology of neonatal sepsis in Blantyre, Malawi: 1996-2001

Ann Trop Paediatr. 2005 Jun;25(2):101-10. doi: 10.1179/146532805X45692.


Aim: The aim of this retrospective study was to report causes, antibiotic resistance and outcome of neonatal sepsis (often fatal in developing countries) in Malawi.

Methods: All blood and cerebrospinal fluid isolates collected between January 1996 and December 2001 from inpatients aged 0-30 days with suspected sepsis at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Blantyre, Malawi were reviewed. In vitro resistance to antibiotics commonly used in Malawi was assessed. Case fatality rate was analysed with respect to age, bacterial pathogen and infection site.

Results: A total of 801 bacteria were isolated from 784 neonates over 6 years-599 isolates from blood and 202 from cerebrospinal fluid. Overall, 54% of bacteria were gram-positive and 46% gram-negative. The commonest causes of neonatal sepsis were group B Streptococcus (17%) and non-typhoidal Salmonella (14%). In vitro antibiotic susceptibility to the first-line antibiotic combination of penicillin and gentamicin was 78% for all isolates, but in vitro sensitivities to gentamicin for Klebsiella spp and non-typhoidal Salmonella were only 33% and 53%, respectively. In-hospital case fatality rate was known for only 301 cases and was high at 48%. Group B Streptococcus was associated with the best outcome. Mortality was significantly higher if presentation was in the 1st week of life or if sepsis was caused by gram-negative bacteria. The causes of neonatal sepsis in this population show a different pattern from other studies in developing countries.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cross Infection*
  • Drug Resistance
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infection Control
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Salmonella
  • Sepsis / drug therapy
  • Sepsis / epidemiology
  • Sepsis / microbiology*
  • Streptococcus
  • Survival Rate


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents