Brain damage after neonatal tetanus in a rural Kenyan hospital

Barlow JL, Mung'Ala-Odera V, Gona J, Newton CR
Trop Med Int Health. 2001;6

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OBJECTIVE: Neonatal tetanus (NNT) is an important cause of mortality in resource poor countries, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. There are no reports of the long-term outcome of children who survive NNT in African hospitals. DESIGN: In a retrospective study of children discharged from Kilifi District Hospital (KDH), Kenya with NNT, each child was linked with a comparative child (CC) in the community matched for age, sex and locality. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 123 patients were admitted with NNT between 1992 and 1996, of whom 68% died. Twenty-three (59%) of the 39 survivors were traced in the community, 10 had moved away, six had died. OUTCOME MEASURES: NNT survivors underwent a neurological and developmental examination and a questionnaire was administered to the parents about the behaviour of the child. A verbal autopsy was used to determine the cause of death in children who had died after discharge. RESULTS: The head circumference of NNT survivors was significantly smaller than that of CC (P=0.037); eight children had microcephaly compared with one CC (P=0.011). NNT survivors had more problems with hand-eye co-ordination tasks (P=0.035), a lower summated developmental score (P=0.023) and more mild neurological abnormalities (P=0.008) than CC. Parents of NNT survivors reported more behavioural problems (P=0.02) than parents of CC. CONCLUSIONS: Children who survive NNT have evidence of brain damage that manifests as microcephaly, mild neurological abnormalities, developmental impairment - particularly fine motor difficulties - and behaviour problems.