Fatal infections plague Indigenous kids

Associate Professor Luregn Schlapbach.

Indigenous children are three times more likely to be admitted to Australian intensive care units with life-threatening infections than non-Indigenous children — and a bigger proportion die despite life support, new research has found.

A team headed by Associate Professor Luregn Schlapbach from the Mater Research Institute at the University of Queensland and Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane analysed data for the 82,750 children admitted to intensive care units from 2002–2013, including 4864 Indigenous children.

The study focused on the most severe infections, including sepsis, pneumonia and other infections needing life support.

The study found the infections were the single most common reason Indigenous children were admitted to ICUs, accounting for 23 percent of non-elective admissions.

The number of Indigenous children who died of the infections was also more than twice as high than for non-Indigenous children.

Golden staph, or Staphylococcus aureus, was seven times more likely to be the cause of infection in an Indigenous child. It was the leading pathogen identified in children with life-threatening sepsis or septic shock.

Dr Schlapbach said sepsis and other life-threatening infections had been the focus of campaigns to improve survival for children in Australia and around the world.

“The study shows that despite progress made, there remains a major difference between rates of severe infections in Indigenous and non-Indigenous children,” he said.

“We believe this is the largest study reporting on life-threatening infections in Indigenous children and it highlights an important area of health inequity in a high-income country that requires urgent attention.

“Further research is needed to define risk factors and to develop and assess appropriately targeted interventions.

“Risk factors may include those associated with social disadvantage including overcrowded housing, poor access to clean water and sanitation, and the challenges accessing health care from remote locations.

“It is known that delays in initiating appropriate treatments can allow these infections to progress from mild to severe.”

The report’s findings were published in the Medical Journal of Australia this week.

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