Non-malarial febrile illness: a systematic review of published aetiological studies and case reports from Southern Asia and South-eastern Asia, 1980–2015

BMC Medicine
21 Sep 2020
Poojan Shrestha, Prabin Dahal, Chinwe Ogbonnaa-Njoku, Debashish Das, Kasia Stepniewska, Nigel V. Thomas, Heidi Hopkins, John A. Crump, David Bell, Paul N. Newton, Elizabeth A. Ashley & Philippe J. Guérin


In the absence of definitive diagnosis, healthcare providers are likely to prescribe empirical antibacterials to those who test negative for malaria. This problem is of critical importance in Southern Asia (SA) and South-eastern Asia (SEA) where high levels of antimicrobial consumption and high prevalence of antimicrobial resistance have been reported. To improve management and guide further diagnostic test development, better understanding is needed of the true causative agents of fever and their geographical variability.


We conducted a systematic review of published literature (1980–2015) to characterise the spectrum of pathogens causing non-malarial febrile illness in SA and SEA. We searched six databases in English and French languages: MEDLINE, EMBASE, Global Health (CABI) database, WHO Global Health Library, PASCAL, and Bulletin de la Société Française de Parasitologie (BDSP). Selection criteria included reporting on an infection or infections with a confirmed diagnosis, defined as pathogens detected in or cultured from samples from normally sterile sites, or serological evidence of current or past infection.


A total of 29,558 records from 19 countries in SA and SEA were screened, of which 2410 (8.1%) met the selection criteria. Bacterial aetiologies were reported in 1235 (51.2%) articles, viral in 846 (35.1%), parasitic in 132 (5.5%), and fungal in 54 (2.2%), and 143 (6.0%) articles reported more than one pathogen group. In descending order of frequency, Salmonella Typhi, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and coagulase negative Staphylococcus were the commonly reported bacteria, while dengue virus, chikungunya virus, Japanese encephalitis virus, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus were common viral pathogens reported. Reports of rarely reported or emerging pathogens included a case report of Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) in India in 2010 and reports of Nipah virus in Singapore and India.


This review summarises the reported non-malaria pathogens that may cause febrile illness in SA and SEA. The findings emphasise the need of standardising the reporting of aetiological studies to develop effective, evidence-based fever management and improved surveillance. Research and development of diagnostic tools would benefit from up-to-date epidemiological reporting of the regional diversities of non-malaria fever aetiologies.