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Vaccination key to preventing childhood pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa

vaccination.jpgResearchers at the University of Warwick, and the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kilifi, Kenya, have found that respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) appears to be the predominant virus detected among infants and children hospitalized in Kenya with severe pneumonia, according to a study in the May 26 issue of JAMA. The contribution to this severe disease by an individual pathogen stresses the need for effective infant vaccina­tion.

The leading cause of childhood death in sub-Saharan Africa is pneumonia. “The main means for controlling disease and death due to pneumonia are infant vaccina­tion and case management. Thus, establishing the contribution to severe disease of individual pathogens and vaccine efficacy in infancy are essential to reduc­ing the burden of disease,” say James A. Berkley, F.R.C.P.C.H., of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kilifi, Kenya, and Dr James Nokes of the University of Warwick’s Department of Biological Sciences.

The University of Warwick and the Kenya Medical Research Institute  researchers conducted a study to examine the viral causes of severe pneumonia among infants and children at a rural Kenyan district hospital using comprehensive and sensitive molecular di­agnostic techniques. Participants were children aged 1 day to 12 years who were (1) admitted to Kilifi District Hospital meeting World Health Organization clinical criteria for severe or very severe pneumonia; (2) presented to the hospital with mild up­per respiratory tract infection but were not admitted; or (3) were well infants and chil­dren attending for immunization. Nasal wash samples were obtained from the children and analyzed for the presence of respiratory viruses.

From January 1, 2007, through Decem­ber 31, 2007, there were 922 eligible in­fants and children with severe or very severe pneumonia admitted, and viral screening was conducted on 759 patients (82 percent). Me­dian (midpoint) age was 9.0 months. One or more respiratory viruses were detected in 425 participants in the case group (56 percent). The researchers found that RSV was the most com­monly detected virus, present in 260 ad­missions overall (34 percent), and in 192 of 453 infants (42 percent).

Other respiratory viruses were detected in 219 admissions (29 percent), the most com­mon being Human coronavirus 229E (6.7 percent), influenza type A (5.8 percent), Parainfluenza type 3 (3.8 percent), Human adenovirus (3.8 percent), and Hu­man metapneumovirus (3.0 percent).

The authors write that detection of RSV was associated with admission with severe disease (34 percent) when compared with well control participants (5 percent), and that these findings offer sup­port that RSV vaccination may offer con­siderable public health benefit. “There was no evi­dence of an association between viruses other than RSV and severe disease, (22 percent in those admitted with severe or very severe pneumonia and 23 percent in control participants).”

“In summary, our study of the occur­rence of respiratory viruses in chil­dren admitted with clinical syndromes of severe or very severe pneumonia to a rural district hospital in coastal Kenya has identified more than 50 percent of case participants with a de­tectable virus in whom RSV was clearly predominant. We estimate that the pre­vention of RSV-associated severe pneumonia might reduce all-cause clini­cally severe or very severe pneumonia admissions to the Kilifi District Hospi­tal by one-third. This contrasts with no evidence to suggest a marked effect on such admissions would occur from the prevention of any other respiratory vi­rus, with the possible exception of FLUAV [influenza A]. Further molecular-based stud­ies of respiratory virus etiology of se­vere pneumonia over longer periods and in multiple settings in sub-Saharan Africa are needed,” the authors conclude.

The paper Viral Etiology of Severe Pneumonia Among Kenyan Infants and Children will be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA. 2010;303[20]:2051-2057. Available pre-embargo to the media at