Epidemiology and prevention of sepsis in young infants and the potential impact of maternal HIV infection on neonatal sepsis

Cutland, Clare Louise
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Introduction: Neonatal infections contribute to 25% of all neonatal deaths, which account for approximately 44% of all under-5 childhood deaths globally. Pathogens responsible for sepsis in neonates and young infants can be acquired vertically prior to or during labour, or from the environment (community or hospital). This project evaluated the burden and aetiology of sepsis in neonates and young infants (≤90 days), and explored this association to in-utero exposure to human immunodeficiency virus. The study also included a specific focus on the epidemiology of invasive Group B Streptococcal disease in young infants. Additionally, we assessed the efficacy of intrapartum chlorhexidine vaginal washes for: (i) preventing early-onset neonatal sepsis; and (ii) vertical transmission of potentially pathogenic bacteria to the newborns. Furthermore, we evaluated risk factors for poor outcomes due to neonatal sepsis. Materials and methods: (i) A bacterial surveillance system was established at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH) from 2004-2008 to identify young infants with bacterial sepsis hospitalised in the neonatal and paediatric wards. Medical and microbiological records were utilised to obtain clinical and laboratory data. Maternal HIV results were obtained from antenatal testing records or admission records. (ii) A blinded, randomised, placebo-controlled trial of 0.5% chlorhexidine maternal vaginal intrapartum wipes and newborn skin wipes was conducted at CHBAH between 2004 and 2007. Consented, eligible participants were randomised during labour to receive either chlorhexidine vaginal wipes or water external genitalia wipes. Newborns received either chlorhexidine full-body wipes (intervention arm) or foot wipes (control arm). Maternal and infant participants were followed up for admissions during the first month after delivery/ birth. A subset of 5144 maternal participants had an intrapartum lower vaginal swab collected, and skin swabs were collected from their newborns to assess colonisation with potentially pathogenic bacteria (Group B streptococcus, Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae). Results: Group B streptococcus (GBS) was the most commonly isolated bacterial pathogen, causing 35.2% of culture-confirmed sepsis in infants ≤90 days, 41.6% of early-onset disease (EOD, 0-6 days), 40.5% of late-onset neonatal disease (LOD, 7-27 days) and 18.7% of young-infant community-acquired disease (YI-CAD, 28-90 days). Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae) contribute 16.2%, 12.2% and 3.4% to sepsis in young infants. Overall, incidence (per 1000 live births) of invasive GBS disease was 2.72 (95% confidence interval [95% CI]: 2.46 to 3.01), including an incidence of 1.50 and 1.22, respectively, in infants 0-6 days and 7-90 days of age. HIV-exposed infants were at greater risk of EOD (Relative risk [RR]: 1.69; 95% CI: 1.28-2.24) and LOD (RR= 3.18; 95% CI: 2.34-4.36) than HIV-unexposed infants. GBS serotypes Ia and III caused 84.0% of invasive GBS disease in young infants. Intrapartum chlorhexidine interventional wipes was not efficacious in prevention of any of: (i) vertical transmission of pathogenic bacteria (54% vs. 55%; efficacy -0.05, 95% CI: -9.5 to 7.9) to the newborns; (ii) sepsis in first 3 days of life (3% vs. 4%; p=0.65,); (iii) sepsis in the later neonatal period (both <1%; p=0.4444); or (iv) maternal puerperal sepsis(both <1%; p=0.56). Conclusion: GBS, S. aureus, E. coli and K. pneumoniae are the most commonly isolated bacterial pathogens in neonates and infants ≤90 days old. HIV-exposed infants are at greater risk of GBS sepsis. Intrapartum chlorhexidine intervention was not efficacious in reducing vertical transmission of pathogenic bacteria, neonatal or maternal sepsis. Alternative interventions to prevent sepsis in young infants, including maternal immunisation, need to be investigated in setting such as ours where there is a high prevalence of maternal HIV infection.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Johannesburg, South Africa 2016