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Lancet Glob Health. 2013 Sep;1(3):e153-60.

Viral CNS infections in children from a malaria-endemic area of Malawi: a prospective cohort study.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Fever with reduced consciousness is an important cause of hospital admission of children in sub-Saharan Africa, with high mortality. Cerebral malaria, diagnosed when acute Plasmodium falciparum infection and coma are recorded with no other apparent reason, is one important cause. We investigated whether viruses could also be an important cause of CNS infection in such patients, and examined the relative contribution of viral pathogens and malaria parasitaemia.

METHODS:

We did a prospective cohort study in Blantyre, Malawi. From March 1, 2002, to Aug 31, 2004, we enrolled children aged between 2 months and 15 years who were admitted to hospital with suspected non-bacterial CNS infections. Children with a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) white cell count of less than 1000 cells per μL and negative bacterial microscopy and culture were deemed to have suspected viral CNS infection. Blood was examined for asexual forms of P falciparum. PCR was done on CSF or on post-mortem brain biopsy specimens to detect 15 viruses known to cause CNS infection.

FINDINGS:

Full outcome data were available for 513 children with suspected viral CNS infection, of whom 94 (18%) died. 163 children (32%) had P falciparum parasitaemia, of whom 34 (21%) died. At least one virus was detected in the CNS in 133 children (26%), of whom 43 (33%) died. 12 different viruses were detected; adenovirus was the most common, affecting 42 children; mumps, human herpes virus 6, rabies, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus 1, and enterovirus were also important. 45 (9%) of the 513 children had both parasitaemia and viral infection, including 27 (35%) of 78 diagnosed clinically with cerebral malaria. Children with dual infection were more likely to have seizures than were those with parasitaemia alone, viral infection only, or neither (p<0·0001). 17 (38%) of the 45 children with dual infection died, compared with 26 (30%) of 88 with viral infection only, 17 (14%) of 118 with parasitaemia only, and 34 (13%) of 262 with neither (p<0·0001). Logistic regression showed children with a viral CNS infection had a significantly higher mortality than did those who did not have a viral CNS infection (p=0·001).

INTERPRETATION:

Viral CNS infections are an important cause of hospital admission and death in children in Malawi, including in children whose coma might be attributed solely to cerebral malaria. Interaction between viral infection and parasitaemia could increase disease severity.

FUNDING:

Wellcome Trust, US National Institutes of Health, and UK Medical Research Council.

PMID:
24748325
PMCID:
PMC3986031
DOI:
10.1016/S2214-109X(13)70060-3
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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