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Features associated with underlying HIV infection in severe acute childhood malnutrition: a cross sectional study

J Bunn
M Thindwa
M Kerac


Up to half of all children presenting to Nutrition Rehabilitation Units (NRUs) in Malawi with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) are infected with HIV. There are many similarities in the clinical presentation of SAM and HIV.
It is important to identify HIV infected children, in order to improve case management. This study aims to identify features suggestive of HIV in children with SAM.
All 1024 children admitted to the Blantyre NRU between July 2006 and March 2007 had demographic, anthropometric and clinical characteristics documented on admission. HIV status was known for 904 children, with 445 (43%) seropositive and 459 (45%) seronegative. Features associated with HIV were determined.
Associations were found for the following signs: chronic ear discharge (OR 14.6, 95%CI 5.8-36.7), lymphadenopathy (6.4, 3.5-11.7), clubbing (4.9, 2.6-9.4), marasmus (4.9, 3.5- 6.8), hepato-splenomegally (3.2, 1.8-5.6), and oral candida (2.4, 1.8-3.27). Any one of these signs was present in 74% of the HIV seropositive, and 38% of HIV uninfected children. A history of recurrent respiratory infection (OR 9.6, 4.8-18.6), persistent fever, recent outpatient attendance, or hospital admission were also associated with HIV. Persistent diarrhoea was no more frequent in HIV (OR 1.1).
Orphaning (OR 2.1, 1.4-3.3) or a household contact with TB (OR 1.7, 1.1-2.6), were more common in HIV. Each of these features were present in >10% of seropositive children. HIV infected children were more stunted, wasted, and anaemic than uninfected children.
Features commonly associated with HIV were often present in uninfected children with SAM, and HIV could neither be diagnosed, nor excluded using these. We recommend HIV testing be offered to all children with SAM where HIV is prevalent.

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eISSN: 1995-7262
print ISSN: 1995-7270