Variation of vital signs with potential to influence the performance of qSOFA scoring in the Ethiopian general population at different altitudes of residency: A multisite cross-sectional study

PLoS One. 2021 Feb 4;16(2):e0245496. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245496. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: The physiological range of different vital signs is dependent on various environmental and individual factors. There is a strong interdependent relationship between vital signs and health conditions. Deviations of the physiological range are commonly used for risk assessment in clinical scores, e.g. respiratory rate (RR) and systolic blood pressure (BPsys) in patients with infections within the quick sequential organ failure assessment (qSOFA) score. A limited number of studies have evaluated the performance of such scores in resource-limited health care settings, showing inconsistent results with mostly poor discriminative power. Divergent standard values of vital parameters in different populations, e.g. could influence the accuracy of various clinical scores.

Methods: This multisite cross-sectional observational study was performed among Ethiopians residing at various altitudes in the cities of Asella (2400m above sea level (a.s.l.)), Adama (1600m a.s.l.), and Semara (400m a.s.l.). Volunteers from the local general population were asked to complete a brief questionnaire and have vital signs measured. Individuals reporting acute or chronic illness were excluded.

Results: A positive qSOFA score (i.e. ≥2), indicating severe illness in patients with infection, was common among the studied population (n = 612). The proportion of participants with a positive qSOFA score was significantly higher in Asella (28.1%; 55/196), compared with Adama, (8.3%; 19/230; p<0.001) and Semara (15.1%; 28/186; p = 0.005). Concerning the parameters comprised in qSOFA, the thresholds for RR (≥22/min) were reached in 60.7%, 34.8%, and 38.2%, and for BPsys (≤100 mmHg) in 48.5%, 27.8%, and 36.0% in participants from Asella, Adama, and Semara, respectively.

Discussion: The high positivity rate of qSOFA score in the studied population without signs of acute infection may be explained by variations of the physiological range of different vital signs, possibly related to the altitude of residence. Adaptation of existing scores using local standard values could be helpful for reliable risk assessment.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Altitude*
  • Cities
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethiopia
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Dysfunction Scores*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vital Signs / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

We acknowledge the Bayer Foundation’s Talents for Africa program for the continuous support of the PhD student TBT. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.