Objectives: To describe children with pertussis who require intensive care.
Design, setting and patients: An audit in Auckland, New Zealand, of pertussis admissions to the national paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) from 1991 to 2003.
Results: 72 children, 97% of whom were <12 months old. The annual number of cases increased with time (p = 0.04). Forty patients (56%) were coughing for less than 8 days before admission. Apnoea or paroxysmal cough was present in 33 (83%) of these children. Thirty five (49%) received assisted ventilation. Four died. 19% were readmitted to PICU. Those readmitted presented with more atypical disease and had a shorter first admission but longer total PICU admission (9 vs 5 days, p = 0.009). Of the 58 children from Auckland, nine either died (three) or had subsequent respiratory or neurodevelopmental problems (six). There was an increased risk (relative risk, 95% CI) of death or disability associated with having a co-morbidity (RR = 5.56, 1.50 to 8.15), an elevated lymphocyte count (RR = 5.75, 1.54 to 13.65), presenting with seizures/encephalopathy (4.87, 1.18 to 8.34) or shock (6.50, 1.89 to 8.94), having a PIM score of 1% or more (RR = 6.20, 1.22 to 21.72), any abnormal neurological signs (RR = 9.65, 3.32 to 15.23) or being readmitted to PICU (RR = 4.63, 1.44 to 8.82).
Conclusions: Apnoea and paroxysmal cough are key symptoms of pertussis in those with shorter cough duration. Death or disability are frequent. Clinical factors define children at increased risk of these poor outcomes. Early discharge from PICU is associated with an increased risk of readmission and poor outcome.
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