Differentiation of infectious causes in severely ill children is essential but challenging in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of the study was to determine clinical indicators that are able to identify bacterial co-infections in P. falciparum infected children in rural Ghana. In total, 1,915 severely ill children below the age of 15 years were recruited at Agogo Presbyterian Hospital in Ghana between May 2007 and February 2011. In 771 (40%) of the children malaria parasites were detected. This group was analyzed for indicators of bacterial co-infections using bivariate and multivariate regression analyses with 24 socio-economic variables, 16 terms describing medical history and anthropometrical information and 68 variables describing clinical symptoms. The variables were tested for sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value and negative predictive value. In 46 (6.0%) of the children with malaria infection, bacterial co-infection was detected. The most frequent pathogens were non-typhoid salmonellae (45.7%), followed by Streptococcus spp. (13.0%). Coughing, dehydration, splenomegaly, severe anemia and leukocytosis were positively associated with bacteremia. Domestic hygiene and exclusive breastfeeding is negatively associated with bacteremia. In cases of high parasitemia (>10,000/μl), a significant association with bacteremia was found for splenomegaly (OR 8.8; CI 1.6-48.9), dehydration (OR 18.2; CI 2.0-166.0) and coughing (OR 9.0; CI 0.7-118.6). In children with low parasitemia, associations with bacteremia were found for vomiting (OR 4.7; CI 1.4-15.8), severe anemia (OR 3.3; CI 1.0-11.1) and leukocytosis (OR 6.8 CI 1.9-24.2). Clinical signs of impaired microcirculation were negatively associated with bacteremia. Ceftriaxone achieved best coverage of isolated pathogens. The results demonstrate the limitation of clinical symptoms to determine bacterial co-infections in P. falciparum infected children. Best clinical indicators are dependent on the parasitemia level. Even with a moderate sensitivity of >60%, only low positive predictive values can be obtained due to low prevalence of bacteremia. Rapid testing for distinguishing parasitemia and bacteremia is essential.
Nielsen, M. V., Amemasor, S., Agyekum, A., Loag, W., Marks, F., Sarpong, N., … May, J. (2015). Clinical indicators for bacterial co-infection in Ghanaian children with P. falciparum infection. PLoS ONE, 10(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0122139