Dr Thomas Althaus

Research Area: Global Health
Scientific Themes: Tropical Medicine & Global Health and Immunology & Infectious Disease
Keywords: Antibiotic resistance and Point-of-care

I'm a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, based in Bangkok at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, and I’m a member of the Economic & Translational Research Group (ETRG) headed by Dr. Yoel Lubell. Within the group, my focus is on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), particularly, I aim to validate point-of-care (POC) tests for inflammatory biomarkers guiding the prescription of antibiotics in febrile patients attending primary healthcare settings in remote Southeast Asia.

My objective is to create clinical algorithms integrating biomarkers rapid testing with clinical assessment in order to improve the diagnostic methods where health services are limited.

I am coordinating a clinical trial in both Myanmar and Northern-Thailand, aiming to validate the use of C-reactive protein (CRP) rapid test used at POC in non-malarial febrile patients, with the objective to integrate CRP POC in health worker’s decision-making, and therefore to better identify patients who need an antibiotic, and those who do not.

I am also involved in the qualitative aspect of this trial, as I am interested in understanding the perception, attitudes and behaviors of both health workers working in primary heath settings, and patients from the community.

Last, I would like to focus on an economic analysis, studying the impact of antibiotics direct and indirect costs on society, in order to demonstrate that POC tests could represent a sustainable alternative to the massive prescription of antibiotics in developing countries.

Name Department Institution Country
Professor Yoel Lubell Tropical Medicine Oxford University, Bangkok Thailand
Professor Nicholas PJ Day FMedSci FRCP Tropical Medicine Oxford University, Bangkok Thailand
Professor Frank Smithuis Tropical Medicine Oxford University, Yangon Myanmar
Professor Sir Nicholas J White FRS Tropical Medicine Oxford University, Bangkok Thailand
Haenssgen MJ, Charoenboon N, Do NTT, Althaus T, Khine Zaw Y, Wertheim HFL, Lubell Y. 2019. How context can impact clinical trials: a multi-country qualitative case study comparison of diagnostic biomarker test interventions. Trials, 20 (1), pp. 111. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Context matters for the successful implementation of medical interventions, but its role remains surprisingly understudied. Against the backdrop of antimicrobial resistance, a global health priority, we investigated the introduction of a rapid diagnostic biomarker test (C-reactive protein, or CRP) to guide antibiotic prescriptions in outpatient settings and asked, "Which factors account for cross-country variations in the effectiveness of CRP biomarker test interventions?" METHODS: We conducted a cross-case comparison of CRP point-of-care test trials across Yangon (Myanmar), Chiang Rai (Thailand), and Hanoi (Vietnam). Cross-sectional qualitative data were originally collected as part of each clinical trial to broaden their evidence base and help explain their respective results. We synthesised these data and developed a large qualitative data set comprising 130 interview and focus group participants (healthcare workers and patients) and nearly one million words worth of transcripts and interview notes. Inductive thematic analysis was used to identify contextual factors and compare them across the three case studies. As clinical trial outcomes, we considered patients' and healthcare workers' adherence to the biomarker test results, and patient exclusion to gauge the potential "impact" of CRP point-of-care testing on the population level. RESULTS: We identified three principal domains of contextual influences on intervention effectiveness. First, perceived risks from infectious diseases influenced the adherence of the clinical users (nurses, doctors). Second, the health system context related to all three intervention outcomes (via the health policy and antibiotic policy environment, and via health system structures and the ensuing utilisation patterns). Third, the demand-side context influenced the patient adherence to CRP point-of-care tests and exclusion from the intervention through variations in local healthcare-seeking behaviours, popular conceptions of illness and medicine, and the resulting utilisation of the health system. CONCLUSIONS: Our study underscored the importance of contextual variation for the interpretation of clinical trial findings. Further research should investigate the range and magnitude of contextual effects on trial outcomes through meta-analyses of large sets of clinical trials. For this to be possible, clinical trials should collect qualitative and quantitative contextual information for instance on their disease, health system, and demand-side environment. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT02758821 registered on 3 May 2016 and NCT01918579 registered on 7 August 2013.

Althaus T, Greer RC, Swe MMM, Cohen J, Tun NN, Heaton J, Nedsuwan S, Intralawan D, Sumpradit N, Dittrich S et al. 2019. Effect of point-of-care C-reactive protein testing on antibiotic prescription in febrile patients attending primary care in Thailand and Myanmar: an open-label, randomised, controlled trial. Lancet Glob Health, 7 (1), pp. e119-e131. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: In southeast Asia, antibiotic prescription in febrile patients attending primary care is common, and a probable contributor to the high burden of antimicrobial resistance. The objective of this trial was to explore whether C-reactive protein (CRP) testing at point of care could rationalise antibiotic prescription in primary care, comparing two proposed thresholds to classify CRP concentrations as low or high to guide antibiotic treatment. METHODS: We did a multicentre, open-label, randomised, controlled trial in participants aged at least 1 year with a documented fever or a chief complaint of fever (regardless of previous antibiotic intake and comorbidities other than malignancies) recruited from six public primary care units in Thailand and three primary care clinics and one outpatient department in Myanmar. Individuals were randomly assigned using a computer-based randomisation system at a ratio of 1:1:1 to either the control group or one of two CRP testing groups, which used thresholds of 20 mg/L (group A) or 40 mg/L CRP (group B) to guide antibiotic prescription. Health-care providers were masked to allocation between the two intervention groups but not to the control group. The primary outcome was the prescription of any antibiotic from day 0 to day 5 and the proportion of patients who were prescribed an antibiotic when CRP concentrations were above and below the 20 mg/L or 40 mg/L thresholds. The primary outcome was analysed in the intention-to-treat and per-protocol populations. The trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT02758821, and is now completed. FINDINGS: Between June 8, 2016, and Aug 25, 2017, we recruited 2410 patients, of whom 803 patients were randomly assigned to CRP group A, 800 to CRP group B, and 807 to the control group. 598 patients in CRP group A, 593 in CRP group B, and 767 in the control group had follow-up data for both day 5 and day 14 and had been prescribed antibiotics (or not) in accordance with test results (per-protocol population). During the trial, 318 (39%) of 807 patients in the control group were prescribed an antibiotic by day 5, compared with 290 (36%) of 803 patients in CRP group A and 275 (34%) of 800 in CRP group B. The adjusted odds ratio (aOR) of 0·80 (95% CI 0·65-0·98) and risk difference of -5·0 percentage points (95% CI -9·7 to -0·3) between group B and the control group were significant, although lower than anticipated, whereas the reduction in prescribing in group A compared with the control group was not significant (aOR 0·86 [0·70-1·06]; risk difference -3·3 percentage points [-8·0 to 1·4]). Patients with high CRP concentrations in both intervention groups were more likely to be prescribed an antibiotic than in the control group (CRP ≥20 mg/L: group A vs control group, p<0·0001; CRP ≥40 mg/L: group B vs control group, p<0·0001), and those with low CRP concentrations were more likely to have an antibiotic withheld (CRP <20 mg/L: group A vs control group, p<0·0001; CRP <40 mg/L: group B vs control group, p<0·0001). 24 serious adverse events were recorded, consisting of 23 hospital admissions and one death, which occurred in CRP group A. Only one serious adverse event was thought to be possibly related to the study (a hospital admission in CRP group A). INTERPRETATION: In febrile patients attending primary care, testing for CRP at point of care with a threshold of 40 mg/L resulted in a modest but significant reduction in antibiotic prescribing, with patients with high CRP being more likely to be prescribed an antibiotic, and no evidence of a difference in clinical outcomes. This study extends the evidence base from lower-income settings supporting the use of CRP tests to rationalise antibiotic use in primary care patients with an acute febrile illness. A key limitation of this study is the individual rather than cluster randomised study design which might have resulted in contamination between the study groups, reducing the effect size of the intervention. FUNDING: Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund grant (105605/Z/14/Z) and Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) funding from the Australian Government.

May WL, Kyaw MP, Blacksell SD, Pukrittayakamee S, Chotivanich K, Hanboonkunupakarn B, Thein KN, Lim CS, Thaipadungpanit J, Althaus T, Jittamala P. 2019. Impact of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency on dengue infection in Myanmar children. PLoS One, 14 (1), pp. e0209204. | Show Abstract | Read more

Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency may affect the clinical presentation of dengue due to the altered redox state in immune cells. We aimed to determine the association between G6PD deficiency and severity of dengue infection in paediatric patients in Myanmar. A cross-sectional study was conducted among paediatric patients aged 2-13 years with dengue in Yankin Children Hospital, Myanmar. One hundred and ninety-six patients positive for dengue infection, as determined via PCR or ELISA, were enrolled. Dengue severity was determined according to the 2009 WHO classification guidelines. Spectrophotometric assays determined G6PD levels. The adjusted median G6PD value of males in the study population was used to define various cut-off points according to the WHO classification guidelines. G6PD genotyping for Mahidol, Kaiping and Mediterranean mutations was performed for 128 out of 196 samples by real-time multiplex PCR. 51 of 196 (26.0%) patients had severe dengue. The prevalence of G6PD phenotype deficiency (< 60% activity) in paediatric patients was 14.8% (29/196), specifically, 13.6% (14/103) in males and 16.2% (15/93) in females. Severe deficiency (< 10% activity) accounted for 7.1% (14/196) of our cohort, occurring 11.7% (12/103) in males and 2.2% (2/93) in females. Among 128 samples genotyped, the G6PD gene mutations were detected in 19.5% (25/128) of patients, with 20.3% (13/ 64) in males and 18.8% (12/64) in females. The G6PD Mahidol mutation was 96.0% (24/25) while the G6PD Kaiping mutation was 4.0% (1/25). Severe dengue was not associated with G6PD enzyme deficiency or presence of the G6PD gene mutation. Thus, no association between G6PD deficiency and dengue severity could be detected. Trial registration: The study was registered following the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (WHO-ICTRP) on Thai Clinical Trials Registry (TCTR) website, registration number # TCTR20180720001.

Wangrangsimakul T, Althaus T, Mukaka M, Kantipong P, Wuthiekanun V, Chierakul W, Blacksell SD, Day NP, Laongnualpanich A, Paris DH. 2018. Causes of acute undifferentiated fever and the utility of biomarkers in Chiangrai, northern Thailand. PLoS Negl Trop Dis, 12 (5), pp. e0006477. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Tropical infectious diseases like dengue, scrub typhus, murine typhus, leptospirosis, and enteric fever continue to contribute substantially to the febrile disease burden throughout Southeast Asia while malaria is declining. Recently, there has been increasing focus on biomarkers (i.e. C-reactive protein (CRP) and procalcitonin) in delineating bacterial from viral infections. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: A prospective observational study was performed to investigate the causes of acute undifferentiated fever (AUF) in adults admitted to Chiangrai Prachanukroh hospital, northern Thailand, which included an evaluation of CRP and procalcitonin as diagnostic tools. In total, 200 patients with AUF were recruited. Scrub typhus was the leading bacterial cause of AUF (45/200, 22.5%) followed by leptospirosis (15/200, 7.5%) and murine typhus (7/200, 3.5%), while dengue was the leading viral cause (23/200, 11.5%). Bloodstream infections contributed to 7/200 (3.5%) of the study cohort. There were 9 deaths during this study (4.5%): 3 cases of scrub typhus, 2 with septicaemia (Talaromyces marneffei and Haemophilus influenzae), and 4 of unknown aetiologies. Rickettsioses, leptospirosis and culture-attributed bacterial infections, received a combination of 3rd generation cephalosporin plus a rickettsia-active drug in 53%, 73% and 67% of cases, respectively. Low CRP and white blood count were significant predictors of a viral infection (mainly dengue) while the presence of an eschar and elevated aspartate aminotransferase and alkaline phosphatase were important predictors of scrub typhus. INTERPRETATION: Scrub typhus and dengue are the leading causes of AUF in Chiangrai, Thailand. Eschar, white blood count and CRP were beneficial in differentiating between bacterial and viral infections in this study. CRP outperformed procalcitonin although cut-offs for positivity require further assessment. The study provides evidence that accurate, pathogen-specific rapid diagnostic tests coupled with biomarker point-of-care tests such as CRP can inform the correct use of antibiotics and improve antimicrobial stewardship in this setting.

Haenssgen MJ, Charoenboon N, Zanello G, Mayxay M, Reed-Tsochas F, Jones COH, Kosaikanont R, Praphattong P, Manohan P, Lubell Y et al. 2018. Antibiotics and activity spaces: protocol of an exploratory study of behaviour, marginalisation and knowledge diffusion. BMJ Glob Health, 3 (2), pp. e000621. | Show Abstract | Read more

Background: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health priority. Leading UK and global strategy papers to fight AMR recognise its social and behavioural dimensions, but current policy responses to improve the popular use of antimicrobials (eg, antibiotics) are limited to education and awareness-raising campaigns. In response to conceptual, methodological and empirical weaknesses of this approach, we study people's antibiotic-related health behaviour through three research questions.RQ1: What are the manifestations and determinants of problematic antibiotic use in patients' healthcare-seeking pathways?RQ2: Will people's exposure to antibiotic awareness activities entail changed behaviours that diffuse or dissipate within a network of competing healthcare practices?RQ3: Which proxy indicators facilitate the detection of problematic antibiotic behaviours across and within communities? Methods: We apply an interdisciplinary analytical framework that draws on the public health, medical anthropology, sociology and development economics literature. Our research involves social surveys of treatment-seeking behaviour among rural dwellers in northern Thailand (Chiang Rai) and southern Lao PDR (Salavan). We sample approximately 4800 adults to produce district-level representative and social network data. Additional 60 cognitive interviews facilitate survey instrument development and data interpretation. Our survey data analysis techniques include event sequence analysis (RQ1), multilevel regression (RQ1-3), social network analysis (RQ2) and latent class analysis (RQ3). Discussion: Social research in AMR is nascent, but our unprecedentedly detailed data on microlevel treatment-seeking behaviour can contribute an understanding of behaviour beyond awareness and free choice, highlighting, for example, decision-making constraints, problems of marginalisation and lacking access to healthcare and competing ideas about desirable behaviour. Trial registration number: NCT03241316; Pre-results.

Haenssgen MJ, Charoenboon N, Althaus T, Greer RC, Intralawan D, Lubell Y. 2018. The social role of C-reactive protein point-of-care testing to guide antibiotic prescription in Northern Thailand. Soc Sci Med, 202 pp. 1-12. | Show Abstract | Read more

New and affordable point-of-care testing (POCT) solutions are hoped to guide antibiotic prescription and to help limit antimicrobial resistance (AMR)-especially in low- and middle-income countries where resource constraints often prevent extensive diagnostic testing. Anthropological and sociological research has illuminated the role and impact of rapid point-of-care malaria testing. This paper expands our knowledge about the social implications of non-malarial POCT, using the case study of a C-reactive-protein point-of-care testing (CRP POCT) clinical trial with febrile patients at primary-care-level health centres in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand. We investigate the social role of CRP POCT through its interactions with (a) the healthcare workers who use it, (b) the patients whose routine care is affected by the test, and (c) the existing patient-health system linkages that might resonate or interfere with CRP POCT. We conduct a thematic analysis of data from 58 purposively sampled pre- and post-intervention patients and healthcare workers in August 2016 and May 2017. We find widespread positive attitudes towards the test among patients and healthcare workers. Patients' views are influenced by an understanding of CRP POCT as a comprehensive blood test that provides specific diagnosis and that corresponds to notions of good care. Healthcare workers use the test to support their negotiations with patients but also to legitimise ethical decisions in an increasingly restrictive antibiotic policy environment. We hypothesise that CRP POCT could entail greater patient adherence to recommended antibiotic treatment, but it could also encourage riskier health behaviour and entail potentially adverse equity implications for patients across generations and socioeconomic strata. Our empirical findings inform the clinical literature on increasingly propagated point-of-care biomarker tests to guide antibiotic prescriptions, and we contribute to the anthropological and sociological literature through a novel conceptualisation of the patient-health system interface as an activity space into which biomarker testing is introduced.

Lubell Y, Althaus T. 2017. Biomarker tests for bacterial infection-a costly wait for the holy grail. Lancet Infect Dis, 17 (4), pp. 369-370. | Read more

Delory T, Ngo-Giang-Huong N, Rangdaeng S, Chotivanich N, Limtrakul A, Putiyanun C, Suriyachai P, Matanasarawut W, Jarupanich T, Liampongsabuddhi P et al. 2017. Human Papillomavirus infection and cervical lesions in HIV infected women on antiretroviral treatment in Thailand. J Infect, 74 (5), pp. 501-511. | Show Abstract | Read more

OBJECTIVES: To estimate the prevalence and factors associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection, HPV genotypes and cytological/histological high-grade (HSIL+/CIN2+) lesions. METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional study within a prospective cohort of HIV-infected women on combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). Cervical specimens were collected for cytology and HPV genotyping (Papillocheck®). Any women with High-Risk-HPV (HR-HPV), and/or potentially HR-HPV (pHR-HPV) and/or ASC-US or higher (ASC-US+) lesions were referred for colposcopy. Factors associated with HR-HPV infection and with HSIL+/CIN2+ lesions were investigated using mixed-effects logistic regression models. RESULTS: 829 women were enrolled: median age 40.4 years, on cART for a median of 6.9 years, median CD4 cell-count 536 cells/mm3, and 788 (96%) with HIV-viral load<50copies/mL. Of 214 (26%) infected with HPV: 159 (19%) had ≥1 HR-HPV, of whom 38 (5%) HPV52, 22 (3%) HPV16, 9 (1%) HPV18; 21 (3%) had pHR-HPV, 34 (4%) low risk-HPV infection, and 56 (26%) had multiple genotypes. Younger age, low CD4 cell-counts and low education were independently associated with HR-HPV infection. 72 women (9%) had ASC-US+ and 28 (3%) HSIL+/CIN2+ lesions. HR-HPV infection was independently associated with HSIL+/CIN2+ lesions. CONCLUSION: The prevalence of HPV infection and of cervical lesions was low. The HPV genotype distribution supports the use of 9-valent vaccine in Thailand.

Peto TJ, Tripura R, Lee SJ, Althaus T, Dunachie S, Nguon C, Dhorda M, Promnarate C, Chalk J, Imwong M et al. 2016. Association between Subclinical Malaria Infection and Inflammatory Host Response in a Pre-Elimination Setting. PLoS One, 11 (7), pp. e0158656. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Subclinical infections in endemic areas of Southeast Asia sustain malaria transmission. These asymptomatic infections might sustain immunity against clinical malaria and have been considered benign for the host, but if they are associated with chronic low-grade inflammation this could be harmful. We conducted a case-control study to explore the association between subclinical malaria and C-reactive protein (CRP), an established biomarker of inflammation. METHODS: Blood samples from asymptomatic villagers in Pailin, Western Cambodia were tested for malaria by high-volume ultra-sensitive polymerase chain reaction (uPCR) to determine the Plasmodium species. Plasma CRP concentration was measured in 328 individuals with parasitaemia (cases) and compared with: i) the same individual's value at the first time point when they had no detectable parasites (n = 282); and ii) age- sex- and village-matched controls (n = 328) free of Plasmodium infection. Plasma CRP concentrations were compared against thresholds of 3mg/L and 10mg/L. Subgroup analysis was carried out for cases with P vivax and P falciparum mono-infections. RESULTS: Median plasma CRP level for all samples was 0.59mg/L (interquartile range: 0.24-1.64mg/L). CRP concentrations were higher in parasitaemic individuals compared with same-person-controls (p = 0.050); and matched-controls (p = 0.025). 4.9% of samples had CRP concentrations above 10mg/L and 14.6% were above 3mg/L. Cases were more likely to have plasma CRP concentrations above these thresholds than age/sex matched controls, odds ratio 3.5 (95%CI 1.5-9.8) and 1.8 (95%CI 1.1-2.9), respectively. Amongst cases, parasite density and CRP were positively correlated (p<0.001), an association that remained significant when controlling for age and fever. Individuals with P.vivax mono-infections had the highest plasma CRP concentrations with the greatest association with parasitaemia. DISCUSSION: In this setting persistent malaria infections in asymptomatic individuals were associated with moderately elevated plasma CRP concentrations; chiefly evident in cases with P.vivax mono-infections. As well as interrupting malaria transmission within the community, treatment of asymptomatic malaria infections, in particular radical cure of vivax malaria, may benefit the health of infected individuals.

Lubell Y, Althaus T, Blacksell SD, Paris DH, Mayxay M, Pan-Ngum W, White LJ, Day NPJ, Newton PN. 2016. Modelling the Impact and Cost-Effectiveness of Biomarker Tests as Compared with Pathogen-Specific Diagnostics in the Management of Undifferentiated Fever in Remote Tropical Settings. PLoS One, 11 (3), pp. e0152420. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Malaria accounts for a small fraction of febrile cases in increasingly large areas of the malaria endemic world. Point-of-care tests to improve the management of non-malarial fevers appropriate for primary care are few, consisting of either diagnostic tests for specific pathogens or testing for biomarkers of host response that indicate whether antibiotics might be required. The impact and cost-effectiveness of these approaches are relatively unexplored and methods to do so are not well-developed. METHODS: We model the ability of dengue and scrub typhus rapid tests to inform antibiotic treatment, as compared with testing for elevated C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a biomarker of host-inflammation. Using data on causes of fever in rural Laos, we estimate the proportion of outpatients that would be correctly classified as requiring an antibiotic and the likely cost-effectiveness of the approaches. RESULTS: Use of either pathogen-specific test slightly increased the proportion of patients correctly classified as requiring antibiotics. CRP testing was consistently superior to the pathogen-specific tests, despite heterogeneity in causes of fever. All testing strategies are likely to result in higher average costs, but only the scrub typhus and CRP tests are likely to be cost-effective when considering direct health benefits, with median cost per disability adjusted life year averted of approximately $48 USD and $94 USD, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Testing for viral infections is unlikely to be cost-effective when considering only direct health benefits to patients. Testing for prevalent bacterial pathogens can be cost-effective, having the benefit of informing not only whether treatment is required, but also as to the most appropriate antibiotic; this advantage, however, varies widely in response to heterogeneity in causes of fever. Testing for biomarkers of host inflammation is likely to be consistently cost-effective despite high heterogeneity, and can also offer substantial reductions in over-use of antimicrobials in viral infections.

Phommasone K, Althaus T, Souvanthong P, Phakhounthong K, Soyvienvong L, Malapheth P, Mayxay M, Pavlicek RL, Paris DH, Dance D et al. 2016. Accuracy of commercially available c-reactive protein rapid tests in the context of undifferentiated fevers in rural Laos. BMC Infect Dis, 16 (1), pp. 61. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: C-Reactive Protein (CRP) has been shown to be an accurate biomarker for discriminating bacterial from viral infections in febrile patients in Southeast Asia. Here we investigate the accuracy of existing rapid qualitative and semi-quantitative tests as compared with a quantitative reference test to assess their potential for use in remote tropical settings. METHODS: Blood samples were obtained from consecutive patients recruited to a prospective fever study at three sites in rural Laos. At each site, one of three rapid qualitative or semi-quantitative tests was performed, as well as a corresponding quantitative NycoCard Reader II as a reference test. We estimate the sensitivity and specificity of the three tests against a threshold of 10 mg/L and kappa values for the agreement of the two semi-quantitative tests with the results of the reference test. RESULTS: All three tests showed high sensitivity, specificity and kappa values as compared with the NycoCard Reader II. With a threshold of 10 mg/L the sensitivity of the tests ranged from 87-98 % and the specificity from 91-98 %. The weighted kappa values for the semi-quantitative tests were 0.7 and 0.8. CONCLUSION: The use of CRP rapid tests could offer an inexpensive and effective approach to improve the targeting of antibiotics in remote settings where health facilities are basic and laboratories are absent. This study demonstrates that accurate CRP rapid tests are commercially available; evaluations of their clinical impact and cost-effectiveness at point of care is warranted.

Lubell Y, Blacksell SD, Dunachie S, Tanganuchitcharnchai A, Althaus T, Watthanaworawit W, Paris DH, Mayxay M, Peto TJ, Dondorp AM et al. 2015. Performance of C-reactive protein and procalcitonin to distinguish viral from bacterial and malarial causes of fever in Southeast Asia. BMC Infect Dis, 15 (1), pp. 511. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Poor targeting of antimicrobial drugs contributes to the millions of deaths each year from malaria, pneumonia, and other tropical infectious diseases. While malaria rapid diagnostic tests have improved use of antimalarial drugs, there are no similar tests to guide the use of antibiotics in undifferentiated fevers. In this study we estimate the diagnostic accuracy of two well established biomarkers of bacterial infection, procalcitonin and C-reactive protein (CRP) in discriminating between common viral and bacterial infections in malaria endemic settings of Southeast Asia. METHODS: Serum procalcitonin and CRP levels were measured in stored serum samples from febrile patients enrolled in three prospective studies conducted in Cambodia, Laos and, Thailand. Of the 1372 patients with a microbiologically confirmed diagnosis, 1105 had a single viral, bacterial or malarial infection. Procalcitonin and CRP levels were compared amongst these aetiological groups and their sensitivity and specificity in distinguishing bacterial infections and bacteraemias from viral infections were estimated using standard thresholds. RESULTS: Serum concentrations of both biomarkers were significantly higher in bacterial infections and malaria than in viral infections. The AUROC for CRP in discriminating between bacterial and viral infections was 0.83 (0.81-0.86) compared with 0.74 (0.71-0.77) for procalcitonin (p < 0.0001). This relative advantage was evident in all sites and when stratifying patients by age and admission status. For CRP at a threshold of 10 mg/L, the sensitivity of detecting bacterial infections was 95% with a specificity of 49%. At a threshold of 20 mg/L sensitivity was 86% with a specificity of 67%. For procalcitonin at a low threshold of 0.1 ng/mL the sensitivity was 90% with a specificity of 39%. At a higher threshold of 0.5 ng/ul sensitivity was 60% with a specificity of 76%. CONCLUSION: In samples from febrile patients with mono-infections from rural settings in Southeast Asia, CRP was a highly sensitive and moderately specific biomarker for discriminating between viral and bacterial infections. Use of a CRP rapid test in peripheral health settings could potentially be a simple and affordable measure to better identify patients in need of antibacterial treatment and part of a global strategy to combat the emergence of antibiotic resistance.

Rudant J, Amigou A, Orsi L, Althaus T, Leverger G, Baruchel A, Bertrand Y, Nelken B, Plat G, Michel G et al. 2013. Fertility treatments, congenital malformations, fetal loss, and childhood acute leukemia: the ESCALE study (SFCE). Pediatr Blood Cancer, 60 (2), pp. 301-308. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: This study investigated the relationships between childhood acute leukemia (AL) and selective maternal and birth characteristics, including congenital malformations and the use of fertility treatment, for which the literature remains scarce. PROCEDURE: The national registry-based case-control study ESCALE was carried out in France in 2003-2004. Population controls were frequency matched with cases on age and gender. Data were obtained from structured telephone questionnaires. Odds ratios (OR) and their 95% confidence intervals were estimated using unconditional regression models adjusted for potential confounders. RESULTS: In all, 764 cases of AL (648 lymphoblastic AL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia, ALL) and 101 myeloblastic AL) and 1,681 controls were included. The AL cases' mothers reported congenital malformations more frequently than the controls' mothers (OR = 1.5 [1.0-2.4]). ALL was significantly associated with the use of fertility treatment for the index pregnancy (OR = 1.9 [1.3-2.8]). In particular, ALL was associated with ovulation induction only (OR = 2.6 [1.6-4.3]), but not with in vitro fertilization (IVF, OR = 1.0 [0.4-2.3]) or artificial insemination (OR = 1.3 [0.5-3.9]). A positive association was also observed for the difficulty of becoming pregnant without fertility treatment (OR = 1.5 [1.0-2.1]). AL was positively associated with a history of voluntary abortion (OR = 1.4 [1.1-1.8]) but not with a history of spontaneous (OR = 0.8 [0.7-1.0]) or therapeutic (OR = 0.7 [0.5-1.1]) abortion. CONCLUSION: The results suggest that subfertility in itself and ovulation induction may be associated with ALL, and support a positive association with congenital malformations. The links with the various types of fertility drugs and the underlying causes of infertility need to be investigated further.

Althaus T, Greer RC, Swe MMM, Cohen J, Tun NN, Heaton J, Nedsuwan S, Intralawan D, Sumpradit N, Dittrich S et al. 2019. Effect of point-of-care C-reactive protein testing on antibiotic prescription in febrile patients attending primary care in Thailand and Myanmar: an open-label, randomised, controlled trial. Lancet Glob Health, 7 (1), pp. e119-e131. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: In southeast Asia, antibiotic prescription in febrile patients attending primary care is common, and a probable contributor to the high burden of antimicrobial resistance. The objective of this trial was to explore whether C-reactive protein (CRP) testing at point of care could rationalise antibiotic prescription in primary care, comparing two proposed thresholds to classify CRP concentrations as low or high to guide antibiotic treatment. METHODS: We did a multicentre, open-label, randomised, controlled trial in participants aged at least 1 year with a documented fever or a chief complaint of fever (regardless of previous antibiotic intake and comorbidities other than malignancies) recruited from six public primary care units in Thailand and three primary care clinics and one outpatient department in Myanmar. Individuals were randomly assigned using a computer-based randomisation system at a ratio of 1:1:1 to either the control group or one of two CRP testing groups, which used thresholds of 20 mg/L (group A) or 40 mg/L CRP (group B) to guide antibiotic prescription. Health-care providers were masked to allocation between the two intervention groups but not to the control group. The primary outcome was the prescription of any antibiotic from day 0 to day 5 and the proportion of patients who were prescribed an antibiotic when CRP concentrations were above and below the 20 mg/L or 40 mg/L thresholds. The primary outcome was analysed in the intention-to-treat and per-protocol populations. The trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT02758821, and is now completed. FINDINGS: Between June 8, 2016, and Aug 25, 2017, we recruited 2410 patients, of whom 803 patients were randomly assigned to CRP group A, 800 to CRP group B, and 807 to the control group. 598 patients in CRP group A, 593 in CRP group B, and 767 in the control group had follow-up data for both day 5 and day 14 and had been prescribed antibiotics (or not) in accordance with test results (per-protocol population). During the trial, 318 (39%) of 807 patients in the control group were prescribed an antibiotic by day 5, compared with 290 (36%) of 803 patients in CRP group A and 275 (34%) of 800 in CRP group B. The adjusted odds ratio (aOR) of 0·80 (95% CI 0·65-0·98) and risk difference of -5·0 percentage points (95% CI -9·7 to -0·3) between group B and the control group were significant, although lower than anticipated, whereas the reduction in prescribing in group A compared with the control group was not significant (aOR 0·86 [0·70-1·06]; risk difference -3·3 percentage points [-8·0 to 1·4]). Patients with high CRP concentrations in both intervention groups were more likely to be prescribed an antibiotic than in the control group (CRP ≥20 mg/L: group A vs control group, p<0·0001; CRP ≥40 mg/L: group B vs control group, p<0·0001), and those with low CRP concentrations were more likely to have an antibiotic withheld (CRP <20 mg/L: group A vs control group, p<0·0001; CRP <40 mg/L: group B vs control group, p<0·0001). 24 serious adverse events were recorded, consisting of 23 hospital admissions and one death, which occurred in CRP group A. Only one serious adverse event was thought to be possibly related to the study (a hospital admission in CRP group A). INTERPRETATION: In febrile patients attending primary care, testing for CRP at point of care with a threshold of 40 mg/L resulted in a modest but significant reduction in antibiotic prescribing, with patients with high CRP being more likely to be prescribed an antibiotic, and no evidence of a difference in clinical outcomes. This study extends the evidence base from lower-income settings supporting the use of CRP tests to rationalise antibiotic use in primary care patients with an acute febrile illness. A key limitation of this study is the individual rather than cluster randomised study design which might have resulted in contamination between the study groups, reducing the effect size of the intervention. FUNDING: Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund grant (105605/Z/14/Z) and Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) funding from the Australian Government.

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