Background: Data on the contribution of specific infections to childhood deaths in developed countries are limited.
Methods: Infection-related deaths in children aged 28 days to 14 years who died in England and Wales between 2003 and 2005 were identified from routine anonymized death certificate dataset provided by the Office for National Statistics to the Health Protection Agency, using predefined International Classification of Diseases codes for infection.
Results: There were 1368 infection-related deaths documented, constituting 20% of all childhood deaths. An underlying medical condition was recorded in 50% (676 cases), the most common being prematurity in infants (322/660, 52%), cerebral palsy in 1 to 4 year olds (46/190, 24%), and malignancy (46/163, 28%) in 5 to 14 year olds. Of the 837 deaths where a pathogen was coded, 494 (59%) specified bacterial infection, 256 (31%) viral infection, and 69 (8%) fungal infection. Among deaths with recorded bacterial infections, a lower proportion of meningococcal and pneumococcal infections (14% [22/155] vs. 60% [205/339], P < 0.0001) and a higher proportion of Gram-negative enteric bacilli (78/155 cases [50%] vs. 17/339 cases [5%], P < 0.0001) were reported in children with and without documented underlying medical conditions, respectively.
Conclusions: Infections continue to make a major contribution to deaths in children, particularly among those with underlying conditions. Identification of the pathogens associated with childhood deaths should help prioritize the development of intervention strategies for reducing pediatric mortality. Linkage of death registrations to national infectious disease surveillance systems should be undertaken to strengthen monitoring of infectious deaths and evaluate the effect of interventions.