Early childhood wheezing phenotypes and determinants in a South African birth cohort: longitudinal analysis of the Drakenstein Child Health Study

Carlyle McCready, Sadia Haider, Francesca Little, Mark P Nicol, Lesley Workman, Diane M Gray, Raquel Granell, Dan J Stein, Adnan Custovic, Heather J Zar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Developmental trajectories of childhood wheezing in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) have not been well described. We aimed to derive longitudinal wheeze phenotypes from birth to 5 years in a South African birth cohort and compare those with phenotypes derived from a UK cohort.

METHODS: We used data from the Drakenstein Child Health Study (DCHS), a longitudinal birth cohort study in a peri-urban area outside Cape Town, South Africa. Pregnant women (aged ≥18 years) were enrolled during their second trimester at two public health clinics. We followed up children from birth to 5 years to derive six multidimensional indicators of wheezing (including duration, temporal sequencing, persistence, and recurrence) and applied Partition Around Medoids clustering to derive wheeze phenotypes. We compared phenotypes with a UK cohort (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children [ALSPAC]). We investigated associations of phenotypes with early-life exposures, including all-cause lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) and virus-specific LRTI (respiratory syncytial virus, rhinovirus, adenovirus, influenza, and parainfluenza virus) up to age 5 years. We investigated the association of phenotypes with lung function at 6 weeks and 5 years.

FINDINGS: Between March 5, 2012, and March 31, 2015, we enrolled 1137 mothers and there were 1143 livebirths. Four wheeze phenotypes were identified among 950 children with complete data: never (480 children [50%]), early transient (215 children [23%]), late onset (104 children [11%]), and recurrent (151 children [16%]). Multivariate adjusted analysis indicated that LRTI and respiratory syncytial virus-LRTI, but not other respiratory viruses, were associated with increased risk of recurrent wheeze (odds ratio [OR] 2·79 [95% CI 2·05-3·81] for all LTRIs; OR 2·59 [1·30-5·15] for respiratory syncytial virus-LRTIs). Maternal smoking (1·88 [1·12-3·02]), higher socioeconomic status (2·46 [1·23-4·91]), intimate partner violence (2·01 [1·23-3·29]), and male sex (2·47 [1·50-4·04]) were also associated with recurrent wheeze. LRTI and respiratory syncytial virus-LRTI were also associated with early transient and late onset clusters. Wheezing illness architecture differed between DCHS and ALSPAC; children included in ALSPAC in the early transient cluster wheezed for a longer period before remission and late-onset wheezing started at an older age, and no persistent phenotype was identified in DCHS. At 5 years, airway resistance was higher in children with early or recurrent wheeze compared with children who had never wheezed. Airway resistance increased from 6 weeks to 5 years among children with recurrent wheeze.

INTERPRETATION: Effective strategies to reduce maternal smoking and psychosocial stressors and new preventive interventions for respiratory syncytial virus are urgently needed to optimise child health in LMICs.

FUNDING: UK Medical Research Council; The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; National Institutes of Health Human Heredity and Health in Africa; South African Medical Research Council; Wellcome Trust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-135
Number of pages9
JournalThe Lancet. Child & adolescent health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


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