A review of the use of high-flow nasal cannula oxygen therapy in hospitalised children at a regional hospital in the Cape Town Metro, South Africa

E Hoffman, K L Reichmuth, M L Cooke


Background. High-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen is a non-invasive alternative to nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy for infants and children requiring respiratory support. There is a paucity of data to support its use in children, with no published data from sub-Saharan Africa.

Objectives. To describe the outcomes of and adverse events related to HFNC in the first year of its use in a level 2 (L2) general paediatric ward, and to compare these outcomes with those of a historical cohort when this intervention was unavailable.

Methods. This retrospective descriptive study included children aged <13 years who received HFNC in the first 12 months after its introduction (HFNC-availability group, n=66). Demographic data, clinical characteristics and outcomes (death, treatment failure, length of HFNC and HFNC-related adverse events) were assessed. A comparative description of children who required transfer to level 3 (L3) for any form of respiratory support (other than the available standard low-flow oxygen) during the 12-month period prior to HFNC availability (pre-HFNC group, n=54) was made. All analyses were performed in the paediatric wards, New Somerset Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa. Outcomes were compared using standard descriptive and comparative statistics.

Results. The median age of the cohort was 5 months (interquartile range (IQR) 1.9 - 14.6). Sixteen children (13.3%) were malnourished, 10 (8.3%) were HIV-infected, and 30 (25.0%) had been born prematurely. The most common diagnoses were pneumonia, bronchiolitis and asthma. Asthma, anaemia and cardiac abnormalities were the most prevalent underlying comorbidities. Two children died in each group. All 54 children in the pre-HFNC group were transferred to L3; 38 (70.4%) needed CPAP or invasive ventilation. In the HFNC-availability period, 85 children were assessed as needing more than standard low-flow oxygen therapy: of the 19 immediately transferred to L3, 17 (89.4%) received CPAP or invasive ventilation; of the 66 who received HFNC at L2, 16 (24.2%) subsequently required transfer to L3 for CPAP or invasive ventilation. The median duration of HFNC was 46.3 hours (IQR 19.5 - 93.5) overall, and it was 12 hours (IQR 4 - 28) and 58.5 hours (IQR 39.5 - 106) for those who failed or were successfully managed on HFNC, respectively. No HFNC-related serious adverse events were recorded.

Conclusions. HFNC is a safe, effective, feasible option for non-invasive ventilation of children with respiratory illnesses in a resource-limited L2 setting. A greater proportion of children with lower respiratory tract infections in the HFNC-availability group than in the pre-HFNC group required support, but the intervention reduced the bed pressure on L3. Improved ways to identify HFNC failures would be beneficial.

Authors' affiliations

E Hoffman, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

K L Reichmuth, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

M L Cooke, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

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High-flow nasal cannula; Oxygen; Infants; Children; South Africa; Pneumonia

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2019;109(4):272-277. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i4.13145

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-03-29
Date published: 2019-03-29

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