Objectives: To describe the clinical and epidemiological profile of young infants reporting to a hospital and assess previously proposed simple clinical signs for their value in enabling health workers to detect young infants with severe illness warranting hospital admission.
Methods: Observational study of infants less than 2 months of age presenting consecutively to a large public hospital in South Delhi who were evaluated by a health worker (nurse), on a standardized list of signs and symptoms, and the ability of these were evaluated against the need for hospital admission which was assessed by an independent pediatrician.
Results: Of the 1624 young infants triaged, 878 were enrolled into the study. Of these 100 (11%) were below 7 days of age, for whom the common reasons for seeking care were jaundice (52%), not feeding well (6%) and fever (5%). The remaining 778 (89%) were 7-59 days of age with respiratory symptoms as the main presenting complaints (29.1%). The primary clinical diagnoses in infants with serious illness needing admission to hospital in the age group <7 days (n = 66) were hyperbilirubinemia (56%) and sepsis (21%). In those between 7-27 days of age (n = 60), primary diagnoses were sepsis (27%), pneumonia (13%), diarrhea, dysentery or dehydration (10%), while in the age group 28-59 days of age (n = 47) pneumonia (40%), sepsis (19%) and diarrhea or dehydration (13%) were the common primary diagnoses. Signs that had at least a prevalence of 5% and were strong predictors for all the age categories studied were history of difficult feeding (OR 6.8 for 0-6 days, 15.1 for 2-27 days and 6.2 for 28-59 days age groups), not feeding well on observation (OR 13.7, 27.6 and 20.9 respectively for the 3 age groups), temperature > 37.5C (OR 21.8, 14.6 and 30.0 respectively for the 3 age groups) and respiratory rate > 60 per minute (OR 6.8, 15.1 and 21.0 respectively for the 3 age groups). Additional strong predictors with > 5% prevalence were history of convulsions (OR 7.9, only in 0-6 day age group), lethargy (OR 26.1, only in 7-27 day age group), and history of diarrhea (OR 3.0 for 2-27 days and 2.2 for 28-59 days age groups).
Conclusions: Simple clinical signs are useful in hands of health worker for identifying neonates with serious illness warranting hospital admission. These will be of use in the further development of clinical algorithms for the national integrated management of childhood illnesses.