Detection of pathogens associated with early-onset neonatal sepsis in cord blood at birth using quantitative PCR

Obiero CW, Gumbi W, Mwakio S, Mwangudzah H, Seale AC, Taniuchi M, Liu J, Houpt E, Berkley JA
Wellcome Open Res. 2022;7

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Background: Early onset neonatal sepsis (EONS) typically begins prior to, during or soon after birth and may be rapidly fatal. There is paucity of data on the aetiology of EONS in sub-Saharan Africa due to limited diagnostic capacity in this region, despite the associated significant mortality and long-term neurological impairment. Methods: We compared pathogens detected in cord blood samples between neonates admitted to hospital with possible serious bacterial infection (pSBI) in the first 48 hours of life (cases) and neonates remaining well (controls). Cord blood was systematically collected at Kilifi County Hospital (KCH) from 2011-2016, and later tested for 21 bacterial, viral and protozoal targets using multiplex PCR via TaqMan Array Cards (TAC). Results: Among 603 cases (101 [17%] of whom died), 179 (30%) tested positive for >/=1 target and 37 (6.1%) tested positive for multiple targets. Klebsiella oxytoca, Escherichia coli/Shigella spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Streptococcus pyogenes were commonest. Among 300 controls, 79 (26%) tested positive for >/=1 target, 11 (3.7%) were positive for multiple targets, and K. oxytoca and P. aeruginosa were most common. Cumulative odds ratios across controls: cases (survived): cases (died) were E. coli/Shigella spp. 2.6 (95%CI 1.6-4.4); E. faecalis 4.0 (95%CI 1.1-15); S. agalactiae 4.5 (95%CI 1.6-13); Ureaplasma spp. 2.9 (95%CI 1.3-6.4); Enterovirus 9.1 (95%CI 2.3-37); and Plasmodium spp. 2.9 (95%CI 1.4-6.2). Excluding K. oxytoca and P. aeruginosa as likely contaminants, aetiology was attributed in 9.4% (95%CI 5.1-13) cases using TAC. Leading pathogen attributions by TAC were E. coli/Shigella spp. (3.5% (95%CI 1.7-5.3)) and Ureaplasma spp. (1.7% (95%CI 0.5-3.0)). Conclusions: Cord blood sample may be useful in describing EONS pathogens at birth, but more specific tests are needed for individual diagnosis. Careful sampling of cord blood using aseptic techniques is crucial to minimize contamination. In addition to culturable bacteria, Ureaplasma and Enterovirus were causes of EONS.