Empyema in children hospitalised at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa: A retrospective study

  • A Ghoor
  • T Mabaso
  • K Mopeli
  • A Izu
  • S.A. Madhi
  • S.G. Lala
  • C Verwey
  • Z Dangor


Background. There is a paucity of information on empyema in children from low- and middle-income countries since the introduction of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

Objectives. To describe the aetiology and management of empyema in a setting of high HIV and tuberculosis (TB) prevalence.

Methods. A retrospective descriptive study was undertaken between January 2012 and December 2016 in children aged <14 years at a large secondary-tertiary referral hospital in Soweto, South Africa. Cases of empyema were identified through administrative databases. Clinical, laboratory and radiological data were extracted from patient records.

Results. We identified 65 cases of protocol-defined empyema, including 22 (33.8%) referred from surrounding hospitals. The median age at presentation was 53.2 months (interquartile range (IQR) 19.5 - 103.6). Thirteen patients (20.0%) were HIV-infected and 6 (9.2%) were HIVexposed but uninfected. A bacterial pathogen was identified in 36 cases (55.3%). The commonest causative organisms were Staphylococcus aureus (14/65, 21.5%) and Streptococcus pneumoniae (5/65, 7.7%). Treatment for TB, initiated in 28 children (43.1%), was more frequent in HIV-infected children (10/13, 76.9%) (p=0.011); however, microbiological evidence of TB was present in only 5 cases (7.7%). Forty-three children (66.2%) had an intercostal drain (ICD) inserted and 16 (24.6%) a pigtail percutaneous catheter, while a fibrinolytic was only used in 6 (10.2%). Eight children (12.3%) had a thoracotomy and 7 (10.7%) had video-assisted thorascopic drainage, all of whom had a prior ICD inserted, a median of 20 days (IQR 10 - 33) before surgery. Overall, 7 children (10.8%) were mechanically ventilated and 1 (1.5%) died.

Conclusions. Our study showed a dominance of S. aureus as a cause of empyema. A high proportion of HIV-infected children with empyema were initiated on TB treatment, highlighting challenges in managing TB-HIV co-infection. Although fibrinolytics or early surgery are recommended, neither practice was common in this setting.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2078-5135
print ISSN: 0256-9574