Volume 99, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 0002-9637
  • E-ISSN: 1476-1645



Data on the epidemiology of severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) in adults from low-income, high human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevalence African settings are scarce. We conducted adult SARI surveillance in Blantyre, Malawi. From January 2011 to December 2013, individuals aged ≥ 15 years with SARI (both inpatients and outpatients) were enrolled at a large teaching hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. Nasopharyngeal aspirates were tested for influenza and other respiratory viruses by polymerase chain reaction. We estimated hospital-attended influenza-positive SARI incidence rates and assessed factors associated with influenza positivity and clinical severity (Modified Early Warning Score > 4). We enrolled 1,126 SARI cases; 163 (14.5%) were positive for influenza. Human immunodeficiency virus prevalence was 50.3%. Annual incidence of hospital-attended influenza-associated SARI was 9.7–16.8 cases per 100,000 population. Human immunodeficiency virus was associated with a 5-fold greater incidence (incidence rate ratio 4.91, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 3.83–6.32). On multivariable analysis, female gender, as well as recruitment in hot, rainy season (December to March; adjusted odds ratios (aOR): 2.82, 95% CI: 1.57–5.06) and cool, dry season (April to August; aOR: 2.47, 95% CI: 1.35–4.15), was associated with influenza positivity, whereas influenza-positive patients were less likely to be HIV-infected (aOR: 0.59, 95% CI: 0.43–0.80) or have viral coinfection (aOR: 0.51, 95% CI: 0.36–0.73). Human immunodeficiency virus infection (aOR: 1.86; 95% CI: 1.35–2.56) and recruitment in hot, rainy season (aOR: 4.98, 95% CI: 3.17–7.81) were independently associated with clinical severity. In this high HIV prevalence population, influenza was associated with nearly 15% of hospital-attended SARI. Human immunodeficiency virus infection is an important risk factor for clinical severity in all-cause and influenza-associated SARI. Expanded access to HIV testing and antiretroviral treatment, as well as targeted influenza vaccination, may reduce the burden of SARI in Malawi and other high HIV prevalence settings.

[open-access] This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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  • Received : 20 Nov 2017
  • Accepted : 26 Apr 2018
  • Published online : 23 Jul 2018

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