Prevalence and prediction of hypoxemia in children with respiratory infections in the Peruvian Andes

D. S. Reuland, M. C. Steinhoff, R. H. Gilman, M. Bara, E. G. Olivares, A. Jabra, D. Finkelstein

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66 Scopus citations


To determine the effect of respiratory infections on oxyhemoglobin saturation in a high-altitude population, we recorded clinical signs, oxyhemoglobin saturation determined by puise oximetry, and findings on radiographs of the chest of 423 children with acute respiratory infections; the children were living at an altitude of 3750 m in the Peruvian Andes. We defined hypoxemia as an oxyhemoglobin saturation value greater than 2 SD below the mean value for 153 well children in this population. Eighty-three percent of children with clinical bronchopneumonia, but only 10% of children with upper respiratory tract infection, had hypoxemia (p<0.001). Compared with previous studies of children living at lower altitudes, the presence of tachypnea was relatively nonspecific as a predictor of radiographically determined pneumonia or of hypoxemia, especially in infants. A history of rapid breathing was 74% sensitive and 64% specific in the prediction of hypoxemia, and performed as well as a standard World Health Organization case management algorithm in the prediction of radiographic pneumonia or hypoxemia. Radiographic pneumonia was not a sensitive predictor of hypoxemia or clinically severe illness. In contrast, the presence of hypoxemia was a useful predictor of radiographic pneumonia, with both sensitivity and specificity of 75% in infants. We conclude that acute lower respiratory tract infection in children living at high altitude is frequently associated with hypoxemia, and that oxygen should be administered to children with a diagnosis of pneumonia in these regions. Case management algorithms developed in low-altitude regions may have to be modified for high-altitude settings. In this setting, pulse oximetry is a good predictor of pneumonia. Because pulse oximetry is more objective and cheaper than radiography, its role as a clinical and investigative tool merits further exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)900-906
Number of pages7
JournalThe Journal of pediatrics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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