Childhood asthma in low income countries: an invisible killer?

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Marianne Stubbe Østergaard, Rebecca Nantanda, James K Tumwine, Rune Munck Aabenhus

Bacterial pneumonia has hitherto been considered the key cause of the high respiratory morbidity and mortality in children under five years of age (under-5s) in low-income countries, while asthma has not been stated as a significant reason. This paper explores the definitions and concepts of pneumonia and asthma/wheezing/bronchiolitis and examines whether asthma in under-5s may be confused with pneumonia. Over-diagnosing of bacterial pneumonia can be suspected from the limited association between clinical pneumonia and confirmatory test results such as chest x-ray and microbiological findings and poor treatment results using antibiotics. Moreover, children diagnosed with recurrent pneumonia in infancy were often later diagnosed with asthma. Recent studies showed a 10-15% prevalence of preschool asthma in low-income countries, although under-5s with long-term cough and difficulty breathing remain undiagnosed. New studies demonstrate that approximately 50% of acutely admitted under-5s diagnosed with pneumonia according to Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses could be re-diagnosed with asthma or wheezing when using re-defined diagnostic criteria and treatment. It is hypothesised that untreated asthma may contribute to respiratory mortality since respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an important cause of respiratory death in childhood, and asthma in under-5s is often exacerbated by viral infections, including RSV. Furthermore, acute respiratory treatment failures were predominantly seen in under-5s without fever, which suggests the diagnosis of asthma/wheezing rather than bacterial pneumonia. Ultimately, underlying asthma may have contributed to malnutrition and fatal bacterial pneumonia. In conclusion, preschool asthma in low-income countries may be significantly under-diagnosed and misdiagnosed as pneumonia, and may be the cause of much morbidity and mortality.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPrimary Care Respiratory Journal
Volume21
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)214-9
Number of pages6
ISSN1471-4418
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

    Research areas

  • Asthma, Child, Preschool, Cough, Developing Countries, Diagnostic Errors, Humans, Infant, Pneumonia, Bacterial, Poverty, Respiratory Sounds

ID: 45439703