Respiratory pathogen diversity and co-infections in rural Zambia

Gideon Loevinsohn, Justin Hardick, Pamela Sinywimaanzi, Katherine Z.J. Fenstermacher, Katy Shaw Saliba, Mwaka Monze, Charlotte A. Gaydos, Richard E. Rothman, Andrew Pekosz, Philip E Thuma, Catherine G. Sutcliffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: The role of respiratory co-infections in modulating disease severity remains understudied in southern Africa, particularly in rural areas. This study was performed to characterize the spectrum of respiratory pathogens in rural southern Zambia and the prognostic impact of co-infections. Methods: Respiratory specimens collected from inpatient and outpatient participants in a viral surveillance program in 2018–2019 were tested for selected viruses and atypical bacteria using the Xpert Xpress Flu/RSV assay and FilmArray Respiratory Panel EZ. Participants were followed for 3–5 weeks to assess their clinical course. Multivariable regression was used to examine the role of co-infections in influencing disease severity. Results: A respiratory pathogen was detected in 63.2% of samples from 671 participants who presented with influenza-like illness. Common pathogens identified included influenza virus (18.2% of samples), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) (11.8%), rhinovirus (26.4%), and coronavirus (6.0%). Overall, 6.4% of participants were co-infected with multiple respiratory pathogens. Compared to mono-infections, co-infections were found not to be associated with severe clinical illness either overall (relative risk (RR) 0.72, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.39–1.32) or specifically with influenza virus (RR 0.80, 95% CI 0.14–4.46) or RSV infections (RR 0.44, 95% CI 0.17–1.11). Conclusions: Respiratory infections in rural southern Zambia were associated with a wide range of viruses. Respiratory co-infections in this population were not associated with clinical severity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-298
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Infectious Diseases
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Co-infections
  • Respiratory viruses
  • Rural
  • Severity
  • Sub-Saharan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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