Twenty-four consecutive deaths from a total of 70 children receiving treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) have been reviewed. An attempt has been made to ascribe the cause of death to either infection, haemorrhage, the leukaemia itself, or a combination of these factors. No child was free of infection at death. Infection, with or without haemorrhage, was responsible for the deaths of all 15 children whose leukaemia had not relapsed. Although infection was present at death in all 9 children whose leukaemia had relapsed, the leukaemia process itself was also a major contributing factor. Viruses were associated with death in many of the children and may be emerging as important pathogens in children with ALL. Familiarity with a protocol may be an important factor in the prevention of fatal infections in such children. Centralization of treatment is necessary if this expertise is to be acquired.
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