Challenges in preventing pyelonephritis in pregnant women in Indigenous communities

Rural Remote Health. Jul-Sep 2005;5(3):395. Epub 2005 Aug 5.


Aim: To measure the quality of antenatal care in rural and remote regions of the Northern Territory, using asymptomatic bacteruria as an indicator.

Background: Indigenous Australian women and their babies have a greater frequency of adverse outcomes in pregnancy than their non-Indigenous counterparts. It is well established that asymptomatic bacteriuria may have serious outcomes in pregnancy, including an increased risk of pyelonephritis and a strong association with preterm and low birth weight delivery. Ensuring good quality antenatal care can reduce the individual risks of pregnancy for mothers and their babies. In the Northern Territory there are well established guidelines for antenatal care in rural and remote Indigenous communities. These are documented in the Women's Business Manual. Audit and feedback is one method that has been shown to have a small to moderate effect in changing clinician behaviour, in this case improving compliance with guidelines.

Methods: A retrospective chart audit of antenatal clients was conducted at 10 rural and remote primary health care clinics in the Northern Territory, Australia. The audit reviewed all the available charts (n = 268) of pregnant women, from the participating communities, who gave birth in 2002 or 2003. The diagnosis and management of asymptomatic bacteriuria was chosen as the indicator of quality antenatal care, as it is one of five areas of antenatal care where there is evidence that appropriate management improves outcomes. The quality of care was measured against the local guidelines, the Women's Business Manual.

Results: Women frequently had urine tests with where the dipstick showed an abnormal result, with 75% (95% CI [0.70,0.80]) of women having at least one episode of abnormal urinalysis during pregnancy. Six hundred and twenty episodes of abnormal urinalysis in pregnancy were identified. The incidence of bacteriuria at first visit was 16%, (95%-confidence interval = 95% CI [0.10, 0.21]). Compliance with the guidelines was poor. Fifty-six percent (95% CI [0.52,0.60]) of those samples testing positive on urinalysis were not sent to pathology for microscopy and culture, as recommended in the guidelines. Of those with a positive culture, 32% (95% CI 0.28,0.39) were appropriately treated with antibiotics. When antibiotics were given, good compliance of 82% (95% CI 0.76,0.87) with antibiotic guidelines was demonstrated. The positive predictive value of dipstick urinalysis in diagnosing asymptomatic bacteriuria was low in this study at 33.5%. There were 13 episodes of confirmed or probable pyelonephritis. No women with recurrent urinary tract infections were followed up according to protocol.

Conclusion: Aboriginal women have worse pregnancy outcomes than the non-Indigenous population of Australia. Pyelonephritis is a preventable condition in pregnancy. In these rural and remote communities, pyelonephritis has not been prevented due, in part, to a failure to follow the local guidelines. Structural problems were identified and need to be addressed in order to improve compliance with guidelines and hence pregnancy outcomes for rural and remote Indigenous women.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services, Indigenous / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Medical Audit
  • Northern Territory
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / urine
  • Prenatal Care / standards
  • Prenatal Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pyelonephritis / diagnosis
  • Pyelonephritis / drug therapy
  • Pyelonephritis / prevention & control*
  • Pyelonephritis / urine
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rural Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Urinalysis / statistics & numerical data


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents