Background: Autopsy studies are the gold standard for determining cause-of-death and can inform on improved diagnostic strategies and algorithms to improve patient care. We conducted a cross-sectional observational autopsy study to describe the burden of respiratory tract infections in inpatient children who died at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia.
Methods: Gross pathology was recorded and lung tissue was analysed by histopathology and molecular diagnostics. Recruitment bias was estimated by comparing recruited and non-recruited cases.
Results: Of 121 children autopsied, 64 % were male, median age was 19 months (IQR, 12-45 months). HIV status was available for 97 children, of whom 34 % were HIV infected. Lung pathology was observed in 92 % of cases. Bacterial bronchopneumonia was the most common pathology (50 %) undiagnosed ante-mortem in 69 % of cases. Other pathologies included interstitial pneumonitis (17 %), tuberculosis (TB; 8 %), cytomegalovirus pneumonia (7 %) and pneumocystis Jirovecii pneumonia (5 %). Comorbidity between lung pathology and other communicable and non-communicable diseases was observed in 80 % of cases. Lung tissue from 70 % of TB cases was positive for Mycobacterium tuberculosis by molecular diagnostic tests. A total of 80 % of TB cases were comorbid with malnutrition and only 10 % of TB cases were on anti-TB therapy when they died.
Conclusions: More proactive testing for bacterial pneumonia and TB in paediatric inpatient settings is needed.
Keywords: Africa; Autopsy; Children; Cytomegalovirus; Pneumocystis Jirovecii pneumonia; Pneumonia; Post mortem; Tuberculosis; Zambia.