Examining causes of newborn sepsis in low- and middle-income countries

May 6, 2022 – Sepsis—a potentially life-threatening response to an infection that damages the body’s own tissue—is the primary cause of death in newborns in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where 99% of global neonatal mortality occurs. Yet the factors associated with neonatal sepsis in these countries have not been well-defined.

To learn more about the causes contributing to sepsis in LMICs, a team led by Grace Chan analyzed data from the Burden of Antibiotic Resistance in Neonates from Developing Societies (BARNARDS) study, which collected data from almost 29,500 mothers and 30,500 newborns across seven countries between April 2015 and March 2018. Chan, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and her colleagues identified maternal hypertension, hospitalization of the mother within the previous 12 months, larger ward size, staying in a neonatal ward, living in a rural environment, preterm birth, perinatal asphyxia, and multiple births as factors that increased the risk of neonatal sepsis.

The researchers, whose study appeared in the May 2022 issue of The Lancet, also identified average or higher monthly household income as a risk factor for neonatal sepsis, a counterintuitive finding which they hypothesize could be due to biases from “accessibility to and availability of health care or that household income might not be representative of the wealth of the mother.”

According to the team, their results should be used to identify simple and sustainable interventions that will reduce the incidence of neonatal sepsis, and the deaths associated with it, in LMICs.

Read the Lancet paper: Neonatal sepsis and mortality in low-income and middle-income countries from a facility-based birth cohort: an international multisite prospective observational study