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Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2013 May;19(3):229-37. doi: 10.1097/MCP.0b013e32835f4fe4.

Deaths due to respiratory tract infections in Africa: a review of autopsy studies.

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University of Zambia and University College London Medical School Research and Training Programme, University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia.



According to the WHO, lower respiratory tract infections are one of the most prevalent causes of death in Africa. Estimates based on verbal autopsies are inaccurate compared with the gold standard for determining cause of death, the anatomical postmortem. Here, we review all respiratory postmortem data available from Africa and assess disease prevalence by HIV status in both adults and children.


Pulmonary and extrapulmonary tuberculosis was detected in over 50% of HIV-infected adults, four to five-fold more prevalent than in HIV-uninfected cases. Overall tuberculosis was less prevalent in children, but was more prevalent in HIV-uninfected compared with HIV-infected children. Bacterial pneumonia was more prevalent in children than adults and was relatively unaffected by HIV status. Pneumocystis jirovecci and human cytomegalovirus pneumonia were detected almost exclusively in HIV-infected mortalities, twice as prevalent in children as in adults. Coinfections were common and correlation with premortem clinical diagnoses was low.


Respiratory tract infections are important causes of mortality in Africa. Of the 21 reviewed studies, only four studies (all adults) were undertaken in the last decade. There is hence an urgent need for new postmortem studies to monitor cause of death in new and emerging patient groups, such as those on antiretroviral therapy and HIV exposed uninfected children.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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