Severe febrile illness in adult hospital admissions in Tanzania: a prospective study in an area of high malaria transmission

Behzad Nadjm, George Mtove, Ben Amos, Naomi F. Walker, Helmut Diefendal, Hugh Reyburn, Christopher J.M. Whitty
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Severe febrile illness is a major cause of adult hospital admission in Africa. Studies of non-malarial fever come largely from children or from high HIV prevalence settings. This prospective study of adult admissions with severe febrile illness in a malaria-endemic area with moderate/low HIV prevalence investigated admission diagnosis as well as final diagnosis based on results of investigations. Severe malaria was the admission diagnosis in 148/198 (74.7%) cases. Plasmodium falciparum was identified in 38/188 (20.2%) admissions and 26/198 (13.1%) were bacteraemic, with 13/25 (52%) prescribed empirical antibiotics. HIV was equally common among those with (16/37; 43.2%) and without P. falciparum (50/138; 36.2%) (p=0.44). In 6/22 (27.3%) deaths, blood cultures were positive for a pathogen, with Streptococcus pneumoniae, Escherichia coli and non-Typhi Salmonella predominating. Chest radiography was suspicious for bacterial/mycobacterial disease in 5/22 additional deaths. Systemic inflammatory response syndrome criteria were more sensitive but less specific than WHO severe malaria criteria for predicting mortality. Malaria is overdiagnosed in adults with severe febrile illness and was not associated with mortality in the absence of co-infection in this high-incidence setting. Adults with severe febrile illness should be tested for malaria and HIV using rapid, sensitive tests. Early antibiotic use should be promoted. Improved diagnostics for invasive bacterial disease are needed.