BackgroundNeurological complications due to chikungunya virus (CHIKV) infection have been described in different parts of the world, with children being disproportionately affected. However, the burden of CHIKV-associated neurological disease in Africa is currently unknown and given the lack of diagnostic facilities in routine care it is possible that CHIKV is an unrecognized etiology among children with encephalitis or other neurological illness.Methods and findingsWe estimated the incidence of CHIKV infection among children hospitalized with neurological disease in Kilifi County, coastal Kenya. We used reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to systematically test for CHIKV in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples from children aged <16 years hospitalized with symptoms of neurological disease at Kilifi County Hospital between January 2014 and December 2018. Clinical records were linked to the Kilifi Health and Demographic Surveillance System and population incidence rates of CHIKV infection estimated. There were 18,341 pediatric admissions for any reason during the 5-year study period, of which 4,332 (24%) had CSF collected. The most common clinical reasons for CSF collection were impaired consciousness, seizures, and coma (47%, 22%, and 21% of all collections, respectively). After acute investigations done for immediate clinical care, CSF samples were available for 3,980 admissions, of which 367 (9.2%) were CHIKV RT-PCR positive. Case fatality among CHIKV-positive children was 1.4% (95% CI 0.4, 3.2). The annual incidence of CHIKV-associated neurological disease varied between 13 to 58 episodes per 100,000 person-years among all children <16 years old. Among children aged <5 years, the incidence of CHIKV-associated neurological disease was 77 per 100,000 person-years, compared with 20 per 100,000 for cerebral malaria and 7 per 100,000 for bacterial meningitis during the study period. Because of incomplete case ascertainment due to children not presenting to hospital, or not having CSF collected, these are likely minimum estimates. Study limitations include reliance on hospital-based surveillance and limited CSF sampling in children in coma or other contraindications to lumbar puncture, both of which lead to under-ascertainment of incidence and of case fatality.ConclusionsIn this study, we observed that CHIKV infections are relatively more common than cerebral malaria and bacterial meningitis among children hospitalized with neurological disease in coastal Kenya. Given the wide distribution of CHIKV mosquito vectors, studies to determine the geographic extent of CHIKV-associated neurological disease in Africa are essential.
KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Nairobi, Kenya.