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Methemoglobin and nitric oxide therapy in Ugandan children hospitalized for febrile illness: results… Conroy, Andrea L; Hawkes, Michael; Hayford, Kyla; Hermann, Laura; McDonald, Chloe R; Sharma, Suparna; Namasopo, Sophie; Opoka, Robert O; John, Chandy C; Liles, W. C; Miller, Christopher; Kain, Kevin C Nov 4, 2016

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RESEARCH ARTICLE Open AccessMethemoglobin and nitric oxide therapy inUgandan children hospitalized for febrileillness: results from a prospective cohortstudy and randomized double-blindplacebo-controlled trialAndrea L. Conroy1,2, Michael Hawkes3, Kyla Hayford1,2, Laura Hermann1, Chloe R. McDonald2,4, Suparna Sharma2,Sophie Namasopo5, Robert O. Opoka6, Chandy C. John7, W. Conrad Liles8, Christopher Miller9 and Kevin C. Kain1,2,4,10,11*AbstractBackground: Exposure of red blood cells to oxidants increases production of methemoglobin (MHb) resulting inimpaired oxygen delivery to tissues. There are no reliable estimates of methemoglobinemia in low resource clinicalsettings. Our objectives were to: i) evaluate risk factors for methemoglobinemia in Ugandan children hospitalizedwith fever (study 1); and ii) investigate MHb responses in critically ill Ugandan children with severe malaria treatedwith inhaled nitric oxide (iNO), an oxidant that induces MHb in a dose-dependent manner (study 2).Methods: Two prospective studies were conducted at Jinja Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda between 2011and 2013. Study 1, a prospective cohort study of children admitted to hospital with fever (fever cohort, n = 2089children 2 months to 5 years). Study 2, a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled parallel arm trial of room airplacebo vs. 80 ppm iNO as an adjunctive therapy for children with severe malaria (RCT, n = 180 children 1–10 yearsreceiving intravenous artesunate and 72 h of study gas). The primary outcomes were: i) masimo pulse co-oximetryelevated MHb levels at admission (>2 %, fever cohort); ii) four hourly MHb levels in the RCT.Results: In the fever cohort, 34 % of children admitted with fever had elevated MHb at admission. Children with ahistory of vomiting, delayed capillary refill, elevated lactate, severe anemia, malaria, or hemoglobinopathies hadincreased odds of methemoglobinemia (p < 0.05 in a multivariate model). MHb levels at admission were higher inchildren who died (n = 89) compared to those who survived (n = 1964), p = 0.008. Among children enrolled in theiNO RCT, MHb levels typically plateaued within 12–24 h of starting study gas. MHb levels were higher in childrenreceiving iNO compared to placebo, and MHb > 10 % occurred in 5.7 % of children receiving iNO. There were nodifferences in rates of study gas discontinuation between trial arms.Conclusions: Hospitalized children with evidence of impaired oxygen delivery, metabolic acidosis, anemia, ormalaria were at risk of methemoglobinemia. However, we demonstrated high-dose iNO could be safelyadministered to critically ill children with severe malaria with appropriate MHb monitoring.(Continued on next page)* Correspondence: kevin.kain@uhn.ca1Depatment of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada2Sandra A. Rotman Laboratories, Sandra Rotman Centre for Global Health,University Health Network-Toronto General Hospital, University of Toronto,Toronto, CanadaFull list of author information is available at the end of the article© The Author(s). 2016 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, andreproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link tothe Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver(http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.Conroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 DOI 10.1186/s12887-016-0719-2(Continued from previous page)Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01255215 (Date registered: December 5, 2010).Keywords: Pediatrics, Methemoglobin, Inhaled nitric oxide, Malaria, Anemia, Metabolic acidosis, Oxygen delivery,Fever, UgandaBackgroundAn estimated 200 million malaria infections occur everyyear, resulting in an estimated 1.2 million deaths [1],the majority of which are attributable to Plasmodiumfalciparum infection. Despite the availability of effectiveartemisinin-based antimalarial therapies, mortality ratesremain high in severe malaria (8–20 % in children),suggesting that therapies targeting the parasite alone areinsufficient in individuals with established manifestationsof severe disease. One potential strategy to reduce mortal-ity rates is to identify adjunctive therapies that target dele-terious host immune responses (reviewed in [2, 3]). Theendothelium, acting as a ‘biosensor’, is increasingly beingrecognized as a critical regulator of vascular integrity inlife-threatening infections characterized by systemic in-flammation, like sepsis and severe malaria, and thereforerepresents a promising target for adjunctive therapy [4].One strategy to promote endothelial integrity is toincrease bioavailable nitric oxide (NO), a gaseous freeradical produced by the conversion of L-arginine to L-citrulline through a family of nitric oxide synthase en-zymes [5]. A number of human studies have reportedassociations between reduced bioavailable NO and malariadisease severity [6–8]. Preclinical data from an experimen-tal model of cerebral malaria (CM) reported improvedsurvival, reduced systemic inflammation and endothelialactivation, and retained blood-brain-barrier integrity fol-lowing administration of iNO [9, 10]. iNO is approvedfor human use (5–80 ppm), and is routinely used inNorth America and Europe for the treatment of persistentpulmonary hypertension or infant respiratory distress syn-drome in term or near-term neonates [11, 12]. Based onthese data, we sought to evaluate whether iNO would im-prove clinical recovery when administered in adjunct tostandard anti-malarial therapy in a cohort of children withsevere malaria [13, 14].As iNO is systemically absorbed it combines withhemoglobin to form nitrosylhemoglobin, which is thenoxidized to form methemoglobin (MHb) [15]. MHb isformed by oxidation of ferrous iron (Fe++) to ferric iron(Fe+++) within the heme moiety of hemoglobin (Hb),resulting in a functional impairment in the ability of Hbto transport oxygen and carbon dioxide [16]. As red bloodcells (RBCs) are continuously bathed in oxygen, there isconstant oxidation of Hb to MHb, but levels of MHb typ-ically remain <1 % due to endogenous reduction systems[17]. Elevated levels of MHb (>10 %) can lead to clinicalsigns of hypoxemia ranging from mild headache to re-spiratory distress, cyanosis and death with increasinglevels of MHb. Although methemoglobinemia typically oc-curs following ingestion or skin exposure to an oxidizingagent, it can also occur as a result of genetic, dietary orother factors [18].In this study, we prospectively evaluated MHb levelsin Ugandan children hospitalized with fever. Our objec-tives were three-fold: i) to determine MHb levels at ad-mission among children hospitalized for febrile illness inUgandan children; ii) to explore clinical and demographicfactors associated with elevated MHb; and iii) to evaluatethe safety and tolerability of high-dose inhaled nitric oxidein children with severe malaria using MHb. We assessedthe first two objectives in a prospective observationalstudy of 2089 febrile children admitted to hospital in aresource-constrained hospital in Eastern Uganda. Theimpact of iNO on MHb was assessed in a randomizeddouble-blind placebo-controlled trial evaluating iNO as anadjunctive therapy for children with severe malaria whereiNO was administered at 80 ppm continuously for up to72 h. Although iNO is routinely administered in neonatesat doses of 5–20 ppm, there are limited data on the effectof iNO on MHb levels at higher doses, and no data frompediatric populations in Africa.MethodsStudy siteStudies took place at the Jinja Regional Referral Hospitalbetween July 2011 and August 2013 in Jinja, Uganda.The hospital serves a catchment area of 3 million peopleencompassing 12 districts in mid-eastern Uganda. Thechildren’s unit has 100 beds and an average admissionrate of 650 children per month. Malaria transmission inthe Jinja area is moderate with an estimated entomologicalinoculation rate of six infective bites per person per year[19, 20]. Malaria is the most common admission diagnosisin the children’s unit.Study 1 design: prospective in-patient study of childrenhospitalized with non-malarial and malarial feverChildren aged 2 months to 5 years were eligible for thestudy if they had a documented fever or history of feverwithin the previous 48 h and were admitted to hospitalby the attending physician. Children with diarrheal ill-ness without any other symptoms of systemic infectionwere excluded from the study. At admission, informationConroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 2 of 12was collected on patient demographics, history of illness,and treatments. Daily follow-up was conducted by studypersonnel to determine clinical outcome. Methemoglobinwas assessed using a Masimo SET® Rad-57™ pulse co-oximeter (Masimo Corporation, Irvine, CA), by experi-enced pediatric nurses and medical officers according tostandard operating procedures. Malaria infection (lab-con-firmed malaria) was defined using microscopy (Field’sstained thick blood smear examined by an experiencedtechnician at the Jinja Hospital Laboratory using a lightmicroscope) and/or rapid diagnostic tests (HRP2/pLDHpositive or pLDH positive test, First Response MalariaAg.pLDH/HRP2 Combo Rapid Diagnostic Test, PremierMedical Corporation Limited, India) [21].Study 2 design: randomized double-blind placebo-controlledclinical trial comparing air versus high-dose iNO as anadjunctive therapy for severe malariaChildren aged 1 to 10 years with suspected severemalaria were screened in the emergency department atJinja Regional Referral Hospital for inclusion in thetrial. The trial is registered (ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier:NCT01255215). Children were eligible for the study ifthey had a positive malaria rapid diagnostic test in thepresence of features of severe malaria [13]. After obtaininginformed consent, children were randomized to receiveeither room air or iNO starting at 80 ppm by non-rebreather HiOx® face mask (CareFusion, CA) for 72 h(or until the child recovered and no longer toleratedthe mask). Children were randomized using simplerandomization using a computer generated list createdby the unblinded team leader (ALC). Group assignmentwas recorded on a piece of paper and kept in sequentiallysealed opaque envelops in a locked cabinet accessible onlyto un-blinded investigators. Following enrollment, malariawas confirmed using thick and thin Giemsa-stainedperipheral blood smears assessed by light microscopyat the Makerere University-John’s Hopkins University(MU-JHU) Core Lab, which is a College of AmericanPathologists certified, quality-controlled central researchlaboratory in Kampala. All children received parenteralartesunate for severe malaria as described [22]. Childrenwere excluded from the study if they had known chronicillnesses (e.g. renal, cardiac or hepatic diseases, epilepsy,cerebral palsy, clinical AIDS), hemoglobinopathies, se-vere malnutrition (<−3SD weight-for-age), severe mal-arial anemia (Hb <50 g/L) without any other signs ofsevere malaria, and baseline methemoglobinemia (>2 %)that did not resolve following patient stabilization.Study gas (continuous iNO or room air placebo) wasadministered by an un-blinded research team not in-volved in patient care including: a trial manager torandomize children and start treatment gas, and a teamof un-blinded study nurses to monitor gas delivery andpotential toxicities. Study gas was temporarily discon-tinued if one of the following occurred: MHb >10 %; el-evated inspired NO2 concentration >5 %; persistenthypoxemia; evolving respiratory distress; unexplainedtachycardia; unexplained hypotension; any study drugrelated adverse event that, in the opinion of the investiga-tor, made it unsafe for the subject to continue. Followingtemporary discontinuation of the study gas, there was thepossibility of re-challenge following resolution of the ad-verse event. Treatment was permanently discontinued ifthere was refractory methemoglobinemia (MHb above10 % despite re-starting iNO at a lower concentrationfollowing temporary discontinuation); hemoptysis; acutekidney injury; any study drug related adverse event that, inthe opinion of the investigator, made it unsafe for thesubject to continue; any study drug related adverseevent requiring temporary discontinuation that recurredon re-challenge at the same or lower dose of iNO; or atthe discretion of the subject or guardian; at the discretionof the investigator.Baseline MHb levels were assessed at time of patientscreening and were repeated following randomization.After the study gas was initiated, MHb levels wereassessed on a four-hourly basis. Nurses kept detailedclinical record of any time off gas to accurately assessthe time children were exposed to iNO.Statistical analysisData were analyzed using IBM SPSS 20, Stata 13 (Col-lege Station, TX) and GraphPad Prism 6. Demographic,clinical and laboratory characteristics of participants atenrolment were described using proportions for binaryvariables and mean or median values for continuous var-iables, as appropriate. Age and sex-standardized z-scoresfor height-for-age, weight-for-age and height-for-weightwere calculated using the World Health OrganizationAnthro program (version 3.2.2, January 2011).Baseline MHb levels were analyzed as a percentage orcategorized as methemoglobinemia (>2 % vs. ≤2 %). Riskfactors for methemoglobinemia at admission were evalu-ated using bivariate and multivariate logistic regressionmodels. Model selection for the multivariate model wasbased on variables selected a priori (age) and all variablesthat predicted methemoglobinemia at an alpha level of≤0.2 in bivariate logistic regression models. Final variableselection for the multivariate model balanced parsimonywith model fit based on Hosmer-Lemeshow’s goodness offit test, minimizing Akaike’s Information Criteria andBayesian Information Criteria. Unadjusted and adjustedodds ratios are presented with 95 % confidence intervals.ResultsData were analyzed for 2089 children with known out-comes in the pediatric fever cohort (study 1) and 180Conroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 3 of 12children in the iNO RCT (study 2). Median age was1 year [IQR: 0, 2] in the fever cohort and 2 years [1, 3]in the iNO RCT (Table 1). Clinical characteristics atenrollment such as temperature, heart rate, oxygensaturation, capillary refill time and blood pressurewere comparable in both cohorts. In the fever cohort(study 1), the median Blantyre coma score (BCS) was5 [IQR: 5,5], 33 % presented with vomiting and 30 %presented with diarrhea. In the iNO RCT, the medianBCS was 2 [2, 3] with 4 and 21 % presenting with vomitingand diarrhea, respectively. Sixty-seven percent of childrenin the pediatric fever cohort had lab-confirmed malaria(by thick film blood smear or positive RDT pLDH/HRP2or pLDH alone) compared to 100 % in the iNO RCT, anenrollment criteria for the RCT. Twenty percent and 61 %of fever and iNO RCT cohorts, respectively, had severeanemia (Table 1). Median MHb levels at admission were1.5 % [IQR: 0.7, 2.6] in the fever cohort and 1.7 % [1.2, 2.1]in the iNO RCT cohort (p >0.05). Sixty-two out of 547(11.3 %) subjects were excluded from the iNO RCT due toelevated MHb at admission.Study 1 cohort: risk factors of elevated MHb in a pediatricfever cohortAmong 2089 children admitted to the hospital with a fever(Table 2), 34 % had methemoglobinemia (MHb >2 %), 6 %had MHb levels above 7, and 3 % had MHb levels above10 %. In bivariate analysis, multiple factors differed be-tween children with vs. without methemoglobinemia(Table 2). In a multivariate logistic regression model,children with methemoglobinemia at presentation weresignificantly more likely to have vomiting (adjustedodds ratio (aOR) 1.36, 95 % CI: 1.09, 1.70), prolongedcapillary refill time (aOR 1.36, 95 % CI: 1.11, 1.66) andelevated lactate levels (aOR 1.08, 95 % CI: 1.05, 1.11)after controlling for relevant demographic, clinical andlaboratory results. The odds ratio of methemoglobinemiawas two times higher in children with hemoglobinopathies(sickle cell anemia or glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenasedeficiency (G6PD)) (aOR 1.97, 95 % CI: 1.17, 3.32), or insevere anemia (aOR 1.99, 95 % CI: 1.51, 2.61). Childrenwith lab-confirmed malaria (aOR 1.34, 95 % CI: 1.07, 1.69)also had an elevated risk of methemoglobinemia. Ofchildren with lab-confirmed malaria, 54.6 % met WHOcriteria for severe malaria, including: prostration, deepbreathing, jaundice, hyperlactatemia, hypoglycemia, se-vere anemia, altered consciousness or hemoglobinuria.MHb levels were higher in children with severe malaria(n = 754; median 1.9 %, IQR, 0.8–4.1) compared to uncom-plicated malaria (n = 627; median 1.4 %, IQR: 0.7–2.0),p <0.0001 by Mann-Whitney U test.Admission MHb levels were higher in non-survivors(n = 89; median 1.7 %, IQR: 0.8–4.6) compared to survi-vors (n = 1964; median 1.5 %, IQR: 0.7–2.5), p = 0.008(Mann-Whitney U Test). Analysis of missing data showedthat MHb values were more likely to be missing in non-survivors compared to survivors at 10.1 and 1.3 % respect-ively (reflecting the difficulty in getting pulse co-oximetrymeasurements in critically ill children with poor perfusion).Study 2 cohort: MHb levels in children receiving iNO asan adjunctive therapy for severe malariaOverview of trialAmong children enrolled in the iNO RCT, 92 were ran-domized to receive placebo (room air) and 88 to receiveiNO between July 2011 and June 2013. The mean timeon gas was comparable between groups (mean (SD): pla-cebo, 63.6 (19.9) hours; iNO, 61.9 (21.7) hours, p = 0.582).Gas was withdrawn for 31 children (12 children in the pla-cebo arm and 19 in the iNO arm, p = 0.13). 10 childrenhad gas temporarily discontinued for the followingreasons: methemoglobin >10 %, n = 5; unexplained tachy-cardia, n = 1; investigator discretion, n = 4 (stridor, n = 2;Table 1 Characteristics of Study CohortsFever Cohort(n = 2089)iNO Trial Cohort(n = 180)Age, yearsa 1 [0, 2] 2 [1, 3]Male, % (#) 55 % (1134) 57 % (102)Temperature, °C 37.9 (1.2) 37.9 (1.2)Heart rate, bpm 159.2 (25.2) 160.7 (25.0)Systolic BP 105.0 (15.9) 110.5 (20.2)Diastolic BP 57.4 (13.4) 58.7 (13.6)Respiratory rate 44 [36, 56] 48 [38, 62]Vomiting 33 % (686) 4 % (8)Diarrhea 30 % (614) 21 % (38)Blantyre coma score 5 [5, 5] 2 [2, 3]SpO2 98 [96, 100] 99 [98, 100]Lactate (mmol/L)b 2.7 [1.9, 4.9] 3.6 [2.1, 6.4]Lactate >5 mmol/Lb 24 % (485) 24 % (43)Capillary refill time<2 s 85 % (1724) 82 % (148)2–3 s 10 % (194) 12 % (22)>3 s 5 % (106) 6 % (10)Lab-confirmed malariac 67 % (1240) 100 %Severe anemiad 20 % (428) 61 % (109)Pretreatment with antibiotic 33 % (682) 43 % (74)Pretreatment with antimalarial 46.2 % (956) 59 % (105)aMean (SD) for normally distributed variables. Median [IQR] for non-normallydistributed variables. Number (%) for categorical variablesbLactate was assessed using LactateScout in the fever cohort and i-STAT in theiNO trial as previously described [52]cPositive by microscopy or RDT (HRP2/pLDH or pLDH)dSevere anemia defined as hemoglobin less than 5 g/dL (hospital laboratory)or pallor by clinical assessment in the fever cohort and Hb <5 g/dL (referencelaboratory) in the iNO trial cohortConroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 4 of 12resuscitation, n = 1; transfer to another hospital for trans-fusion, n = 1). 21 children had gas permanently discontin-ued for the following reasons: acute kidney injury, n = 10;guardian withdrew consent, n = 2; technical/power issues,n = 2; mask required for oxygen delivery, n = 1; recovery/refusal to tolerate the mask, n = 6. There were no differ-ences between rates of temporary (placebo, n = 3 vs. iNO,n = 7; p = 0.21) or permanent discontinuation (placebo,n = 10 vs. iNO, n = 12; p = 0.57) of study gas betweentrial arms. However, MHb >10 % requiring temporarywithdrawal of study gas only occurred in children receiv-ing iNO (n = 5, 5.7 %), p = 0.026. Apart from elevatedMHb, there were no other study drug-related adverseevents listed in the product monograph (hypotension, atel-ectasis, hematuria, hyperglycemia, sepsis, infection, stridor,cellulitis) [23].MHb response to iNO administrationAs this is the largest trial reported to date to administernitric oxide at 80 ppm (the highest FDA approved dose),Table 2 Factors associated with methemoglobinemia in a pediatric fever cohortMHb ≤2 %N = 1364 (66 %)MHb >2 %N = 689 (34 %)Bivariate OR(95 % CI)P-value Multivariate OR(95 % CI)P-valueDemographic characteristicsAge, months 17 [9, 26] 18 [9, 30] 1.00 (1.00, 1.01) 0.268 1.00 (1.00, 1.01) 0.370Age <6 months 98 (7.2) 53 (7.7) 1.08 (0.76, 1.52) 0.677Male (%) 734 (54.4) 382 (56.1) 1.07 (0.89, 1.29) 0.461Clinical findings at admissionFever (≥38o C) 402 (39.1) 276 (27.6) 0.59 (0.49, 0.72) <0.001 0.74 (0.60, 0.92) 0.005Underweight, <-2 WAZ 303 (22.6) 150 (22.3) 0.97 (0.77, 1.21) 0.775Systolic BP 105.5 (15.3) 104.2 (7.0) 0.99 (0.99, 1.00) 0.094Diastolic BP 58.4 (13.3) 55.6 (13.4) 0.98 (0.98, 0.99) <0.001 0.99 (0.98, 1.00) 0.130Age-specific elevated respiratory rate, per min 693 (52.7) 398 (59.8) 1.34 (1.11, 1.62) 0.002Deep breathing 282 (20.7) 213 (31.0) 1.72 (1.40, 2.12) <0.001Vomiting 399 (29.3) 272 (39.6) 1.58 (1.30, 1.91) <0.001 1.36 (1.09, 1.70) 0.007Diarrhea 424 (31.2) 176 (25.6) 0.82 (0.64, 0.) 0.008 0.82 (0.64, 1.04) 0.107Blantyre coma score01234521 (1.6)13 (1.0)22 (1.6)45 (3.4)63 (4.7)1173 (87.7)26 (3.9)9 (1.3)25 (3.7)41 (6.1)48 (8.6)514 (76.4)0.78 (0.71, 0.85) <0.001Capillary refill time< 2 seconds 1180 (89.5) 515 (77.0)2- <3 sec 90 (6.8) 102 (15.2)≥ 3 sec 49 (3.7) 49 (3.7) 1.81 (1.52, 2.16) <0.001 1.36 (1.11, 1.66) 0.003Pretreatment with antibiotics 428 (31.6) 240 (35.5) 1.19 (0.98, 1.45) 0.079Pretreatment with sulfadoxine pyremethamine 16 (1.2) 14 (2.1) 1.76 (0.85, 3.63) 0.125Subcostal retractions 236 (17.3) 172 (25.0) 1.59 (1.27, 1.98) <0.001Laboratory test results at admissionLactate, mmol/L 2.5 [1.8, 4.0] 3.4 [2.2, 8.5] 1.14 (1.11, 1.16) <0.001 1.08 (1.05, 1.11) <0.001Glucose, mmol/L 7.1 (2.3) 7.9 (3.3) 1.11 (1.07, 1.15) <0.001Oxygen saturation (Sp02) 98 [96, 100] 98 [95, 99] 0.97 (0.95, 0.99) 0.015Severe anemia, Hb < 5 g/dL or pallor 182 (13.3) 233 (33.8) 3.32 (2.66, 4.14) <0.001 1.99 (1.51, 2.61) <0.001Suspected hemoglobinopathy 41 (3.0) 41 (6.0) 2.04 (1.31, 3.18) 0.002 1.97 (1.17, 3.32) 0.011Lab-confirmed malaria1 883 (64.8) 498 (72.5) 1.43 (1.17, 1.74) 0.001 1.34 (1.07, 1.69) 0.011Mean (SD) for normally distributed variables. Median [IQR] for non-normally distributed variables. Number (%) for categorical variables1Positive by microscopy or RDT (HRP2/pLDH or pLDH)Factors significantly associated with methemoglobinemia in bivariate or multivariate analysis in boldConroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 5 of 12and methemoglobinemia is a known complication ofiNO, we investigated the impact of 80 ppm iNO onMHb levels. This represents a secondary analysis of thestudy. The primary efficacy data are presented elsewhere[24]. MHb levels were assessed at scheduled times on afour hourly basis following study gas initiation. Themean time between initiation of study gas and the firstgas check was 2.2 h, during which time there was a 2.3fold-mean increase in MHb percent among children re-ceiving iNO (mean MHbBaseline = 1.8 to 4.1 %) but nochange in children receiving placebo (mean MHbBaseline= 1.7 to 1.8 %). Although there was considerable variabil-ity in MHb responses over time, MHb levels typicallypeaked and plateaued within 12–24 h of receiving nitricoxide (Fig. 1a). To illustrate the variability in MHb levelsover time, representative plots of MHb levels overhospitalization were generated for a randomly selectedsubset (10 %) of study participants (n = 17; n = 7 placeboarm, n = 10 nitric oxide arm) (Fig. 1b). Representativegraphs are shown for children who received study gaswithout interruption (A–C), children with temporary in-terruptions to gas flow (D–F), children who had study gaspermanently discontinued because of acute kidney in-jury (G–I), and deaths (J–L) (Fig. 2).MHb levels in fatal malariaIn the iNO RCT, we did not observe a significant differencebetween MHb levels assessed following randomization andmortality (MHb levels ≤2 % at screening was an eligibilityrequirement), p = 0.071 by Mann-Whitney U test. Themajority of study deaths occurred in the first 48 h ofhospitalization (n = 14 of 16 total deaths; [n = 8 in theplacebo group, n = 6 in the iNO group]) with over halfof study deaths (n = 8, 57.1 %) occurring before a secondMHb measurement was taken. The mean time from studyenrollment to death was 13 h. Because longitudinal dataon MHb levels in non-survivors was limited, we were un-able to explore differences in temporal trends in MHblevels between survivors and non-survivors.Of children with multiple MHb measurements takenprior to death, there was one case of rising MHb priorto death. A 1 year old presented to the emergency de-partment with a 3-day history of fever having receivedpre-referral treatment with chloramphenicol and intra-venous quinine. The child was prostrate and comatose(Blantyre coma score = 2) with convulsions, prolongedcapillary refill time (>3 s), jaundice, hypoglycemia, andsevere anemia. At presentation, the patient had coughand age-related tachypnea (respiratory rate, 56/min) butno other signs of respiratory distress (nasal flaring, deepbreathing, subcostal retractions). A diagnosis of severemalaria was made and the patient was treated with intra-venous artesunate, dextrose, diazepam and phenobarbit-one. Following enrollment in the clinical trial, the childwas transferred to the study ward and study gas (roomair) was initiated. On arrival to the study ward, the lac-tate level was 2.3 μmol/L and the MHb level was 0 %.Over the course of several hours, the child deterioratedclinically and developed respiratory distress with nasalflaring and intercostal and subcostal retractions and aprogressive decline in Sp02 % to a nadir of 87 %. Supple-mental oxygen was administered, but MHb levels con-tinued to rise reaching 9.3 % before death (Fig. 2j). Thecause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest.Among children who died receiving iNO, only onehad multiple MHb measurements taken prior to death(Fig. 2l).DiscussionIn this study, we examined levels of MHb in two cohortsof children presenting to a regional pediatric referralhospital in Eastern Uganda. Although these studies rep-resent distinct patient populations (there was no patientoverlap between studies), the subjects were enrolled overthe same 2 year period from the same catchment area.Overall, the children enrolled in the fever cohort wereyounger (according to the study design) and included allFig. 1 MHb levels in children with severe malaria randomized to room air or nitric oxide as an adjunctive therapy to intravenous artesunate.a Box and whisker plots showing the median (IQR) and 95 % CI for the trial arms at scheduled four hourly MHb checks. b Representative MHbplots for a random subset (10 %) of study participants (n = 7 placebo arm, n = 10 nitric oxide arm)Conroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 6 of 12Fig. 2 Representative graphs of methemoglobin kinetics and nitric oxide concentrations administered to children with severe malaria overhospitalization. a, b, c Representative plots from children receiving study gas with no interruptions to study gas. d, e, f Graphs showing MHbkinetics in children with a temporary interruption to study gas administration. g, h, i Graphs from children who had study gas permanentlydiscontinued because they met criteria for acute kidney injury. j, k, l, Graphs from non-survivorsConroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 7 of 12causes of fever, whereas all children in the iNO RCT hada diagnosis of severe malaria.Among children enrolled in the fever cohort, therewere no differences in MHb levels based on demo-graphic characteristics (age, sex, or nutritional status).Infants less than 6 months represent a vulnerable groupfor methemoglobinemia for a number of reasons, includ-ing: a higher pH in the stomach that permits the growthof nitrate-reducing organisms (e.g. Escherichia coli,Salmonella spp.); immature NADH-methemoglobin re-ductase systems with reduced capacity to cope with oxida-tive stress (levels at birth are only 50–60 % of adult levels)[18, 25, 26]; the presence of fetal hemoglobin which ismore readily oxidized to MHb than adult Hb [18]; and ahigher consumption of water per unit body weight, whichrenders them susceptible to methemoglobinemia if ex-posed to nitrates through drinking water [27]. Despitethese known risk factors in young children, we did notobserve an age-dependent effect on MHb levels in ourpopulation of children hospitalized with fever.Given the high rate of methemoglobinemia in ourcohort (34 % of children in the fever cohort had MHb>2 %), Ugandan children may be at higher risk formethemoglobinemia than populations from high-resourcesettings as their environmental exposures may result in ahigher set-point for MHb. A common cause of MHb inchildren is ingestion or contact with direct or indirect oxi-dizing agents (e.g. benzocaine, chloroquine, primaquine,sulfonamides, nitrites/nitrates, dapsone). As a result, weexplored whether there was an association between knowndrug exposures (e.g. pretreatments with antibioticsand/or anti-malarials) and MHb levels. There was anon-significant increase in the odds of elevatedmethemoglobinemia in children that received pretreat-ment with any antibiotic (Table 2, p = 0.079). Due tothe variability in antibiotic prescription and limitationsin parental recall, we were limited in our ability to ex-plore relationships between specific classes of drugsand MHb levels. Furthermore, we were unable to assessenvironmental exposure to other oxidizing agents in inthis population (e.g., nitrates in water, or smoke inhalationthrough indoor biomass fuel use). However, a study evalu-ating nitrate levels in spring water from central Uganda re-ported 60 % (52/80) of water samples had nitrate levelsexceeding the WHO maximum permissible levels [28]. Inaddition, widespread reliance on biomass fuel use (e.g.,wood) in cooking stoves or open fires contributes to highlevels of indoor air pollution [29]. It is estimated that 78 %of the Ugandan population resides in rural areas where86 % use wood for cooking [29, 30]. Based on these find-ings, it is likely that environmental exposure to oxidants inour population exceeds WHO recommended levels.We explored the association between clinical signs andsymptoms at hospital presentation and MHb levels, andobserved two general trends. First, children with impairedperfusion and acidosis (vomiting, delayed capillary refill,and elevated lactate) had significantly higher odds ofmethemoglobinemia after controlling for a set of potentialconfounders. These findings are consistent with previousstudies in infants where methemoglobinemia was reportedin the context of metabolic acidosis secondary to diarrheaand dehydration [31, 32]. In our cohort, we observedincreased odds of methemoglobinemia associated withvomiting, but not diarrhea. Children with fever anddiarrhea alone were excluded from the study. Theprevalence of P. falciparum parasitemia in this cohortwas high at 67 %. Therefore, the acidosis observed inthis study may be attributable to malaria rather thandehydration and diarrhea, as metabolic acidosis is acommon complication of malaria [33–35]. These datasuggest that in conditions of increased inflammation,oxidative stress and acidosis, impaired reduction or re-conversion of MHb to Hb may contribute to the ele-vated MHb levels observed in our cohort [18, 36, 37].Methemoglobinemia was also seen in circumstanceswhere red blood cells (RBCs) are affected: severe anemia,children with suspected or documented hemoglobinopa-thies (i.e. sickle cell disease or G6PD deficiency), andmalaria. RBCs are particularly susceptible to oxidativedamage as they carry oxygen in high concentrations andare continuously exposed to oxygen free radicals. AsRBCs lack a nucleus, they are dependent on endogenousreduction systems that can degrade with repeated expos-ure to oxidants or RBC senescence [38]. Recent estimatesof G6PD polymorphisms in Uganda show 20 % of thepopulation carry the G6PD A-mutation [39], which areconsistent with the range of estimates 15–32 % describedelsewhere in Africa [40–42]. With increased oxidativestress on RBCs in G6PD deficiency, sickle cell disease, andother RBC polymorphisms, the capacity of endogenous re-duction systems may be overwhelmed leading to increasedMHb. In this population, rates of malaria were high withroughly two thirds of children admitted to hospital withfever having parasitologic evidence of malaria infection.Because quantitative estimates of malaria burden (eitherparasitemia or plasma HRP2 antigen levels) were notavailable in this cohort, it is difficult to estimate thefraction of fevers in children hospitalized attributableto malaria. Regardless, malaria was independently asso-ciated with increased odds of methemoglobinemia (OR(95 % CI), 1.34 (1.07, 1.69), p = 0.011), consistent withprevious reports of methemoglobinemia in malaria[43–46]. Malaria is associated with increased oxidativestress from malaria-heme products and immune cell de-rived reactive oxygen species, both of which could pro-mote oxidation of Hb to MHb [47, 48]. Finally, as childrenwith severe anemia possess compromised oxygen carryingcapacity, increased levels of MHb in the context of severeConroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 8 of 12anemia may exacerbate reduced oxygen delivery resultingin metabolic acidosis and functional impairments in MHbreduction. Although elevated MHb was more common innon-survivors compared to survivors, it is likely that ele-vated MHb is a consequence of oxidative stress and acid-osis in severe disease rather than mediating severe disease.However, in children with potentially symptomatic levels ofMHb (e.g. the 3 % of children with MHb >10 % at admis-sion in the fever cohort), MHb could exacerbate underlyingdisease processes and treatment may be warranted.In the context of the clinical trial, 11 % of children assessedfor eligibility were excluded for methemoglobinemia,which is considerably less than the fever cohort (34 %).The lower prevalence of methemoglobinemia in theiNO RCT may be due to a number of factors, includingexclusion of children with known chronic illness (i.e.,hemoglobinopathy). Furthermore, children otherwiseeligible for the clinical trial were only excluded formethemoglobinemia if their MHb levels remained ≥2 %following stabilization (which included administrationof fluids, transfusion in cases of severe anemia, anddextrose to treat/prevent hypoglycemia). As catabolismof sugars through glycolysis is a major source of substratefor the NADH-cytochrome-b5 reductase system, glucoselevels must be in adequate supply for endogenous MHbreducing systems to respond [18]. Therefore, thesestabilization measures may have contributed to areduction in MHb levels in children allowing them tomeet the eligibility criteria for the trial.We were unable to evaluate the dose-dependent effectof iNO on MHb levels as all children randomized to re-ceive iNO were started at 80 ppm. However, this is thelargest trial to date to administer iNO at the maximumapproved dose and we were able to evaluate the variabilityin MHb responses within subjects and the frequency ofmethemoglobinemia prompting study gas discontinuation.Despite the high doses of iNO administered, study gas wastemporarily discontinued only five times for MHb >10 %(all children in the iNO group). We were able to re-startstudy gas for all children that had a MHb measurementthat exceeded 10 % once the MHb returned to <7 % with-out having the MHb exceed 10 % again. It was not neces-sary to wean children off iNO, in contrast to studiesadministering iNO to neonates with hypoxic respiratoryfailure, as we did not observe any rebound effects (e.g.worsening oxygenation) following discontinuation of studygas [23, 49]. Overall, four hourly MHb checks were suf-ficient for monitoring iNO administration, with morefrequent checks implemented in children when MHblevels approached 7 % so appropriate measures could betaken if levels exceeded 7 or 10 % (e.g. titrate or temporarilydiscontinue study gas). As seen in Fig. 3b, MHb levels fluc-tuated considerably within subjects over hospitalization inboth trial arms. It is not clear whether these fluctuationsFig. 3 Flow chart of study enrolment for the randomized controlled trialConroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 9 of 12were due to natural variations/regulatory responses in theendogenous reduction systems or were related to MHbmeasurement using the pulse co-oximeter. However, per-formance of non-invasive pulse co-oximetry has been previ-ously compared to whole blood co-oximetry in children withsickle cell disease and showed acceptable clinical accuracy(bias of −0.22 % for MHb) [50]. The variations in MHb levelsover hospitalization highlight the importance of frequentMHb monitoring during administration of nitric oxide.When looking at illustrative graphs of MHb kinetics inchildren with and without study gas interruptions, thevariability in responses is apparent (Fig. 1). We specif-ically included a panel of children who had gas per-manently discontinued for acute kidney injury, asadministration of iNO has been associated with a sta-tistically elevated risk of developing renal dysfunctionin critically ill adults [51]; however, the same associ-ation has not been observed in pediatric populations.In a recent retrospective analysis of acute kidney in-jury in this cohort, we found iNO was associated withan increased risk of acute kidney injury compared toplacebo with a relative risk of 1.36 (95 % CI, 1.03-1.80), p=0.026. We did not observe differences inMHb levels in children who had gas discontinued foracute kidney injury compared to other children. Apartfrom the one child in the placebo arm of the trial whohad increasing MHb levels prior to death, we did not ob-serve elevated MHb among trial participants who died.However, the majority of participants died early in illnessand there were limited kinetic data available. All childrenexcept one (Fig. 2l) died in the iNO arm died before re-peated MHb measurements were taken.After a decade of use in clinical practice, iNO has a well-established safety profile. In this study, we administerediNO in a low-resource setting in a non-intensive care set-ting with limited laboratory support. Using a commerciallyavailable handheld pulse co-oximeter, we determined therange of MHb levels for children admitted to hospital withfever in this population. Although MHb levels >2 % wereobserved in 34 % of children admitted with fever,methemoglobinemia was grounds for study exclusionin the iNO RCT for only 11 % of children followingstabilization and repeat MHb assessment. In addition, weadministered iNO at the highest approved dose in 87 pa-tients with severe malaria and had to temporarily discon-tinue study gas for only a fraction of children (5.7 %) withMHb >10 %. Overall, the rates of study gas withdrawalwere not different between the placebo and trial arm.Our study strengths include two integrated studiesencompassing a single catchment area: a large prospectiveobservational study to describe MHb levels in childrenhospitalized with fever, and an intervention where a potentHb oxidant was administered and MHb levels assessed.The clinical trial was randomized and double blindedusing separate teams to monitor clinical care and studygas administration to ensure clinical decisions to withdrawgas were not affected by intervention. The study gas teamused pre-set standard operating procedures to guidedecisions regarding titration or withdrawal of study gas.Although we were limited in our ability to report dose-dependent effects of iNO on MHb levels, our study isthe largest to administer iNO at the maximum approveddose and serves as an important addition to existingliterature.ConclusionsMethemoglobinemia was a common complication amongfebrile Ugandan children admitted to hospital, and was as-sociated with vomiting, metabolic acidosis, anemia, redblood cell polymorphisms, and malaria. Among childrenwith severe malaria challenged with high-dose iNO, therewas an increase in MHb levels, but rates of gas withdrawalfor elevated MHb levels were low. These data suggest thatiNO therapy, if clinically warranted, can be administeredin low-resource settings provided appropriate monitoringis implemented.Key messages Methemoglobinemia (MHB >2 %) was a commonfeature among febrile Ugandan children admitted tohospital Elevated MHb was independently associated withvomiting, prolonged capillary refill time, andmetabolic acidosis Children with anemia, red blood cell polymorphisms(e.g. sickle cell disease, G6PD deficiency), or malariahad elevated MHb at admission Administration of high-dose (80 ppm) inhaled nitricoxide in children with severe malaria resulted inincreased MHb levels that plateaued 12–24 h afterstudy gas initiation Inhaled nitric oxide was safe and well-tolerated incritically ill Ugandan children with severe malariaAbbreviationsBCS: Blantyre Coma Score; CM: Cerebral malaria; G6PD: Glucose-6-phosphatedehydrogenase; Hb: Hemoglobin; HRP2: Histidine-rich protein 2; iNO: Inhalednitric oxide; IQR: Interquartile range; MHb: Methemoglobin; NO: Nitric oxide;OR: Odds ratio; pLDH: Plasmodium Lactate Dehydrogenase; ppm: Parts permillion; RBC: Red blood cell; RCT: Randomized controlled trial; RDT: Rapiddiagnostic test; SD: Standard deviation; WHO: World Health OrganizationAcknowledgmentsWe thank all the patients and their families, the medical superintendant ofthe Jinja Regional Referral Hospital, the many medical officers, nurses andresearch assistants that cared for the patients and collected study data; Mr.Bruce Murray and Stephen Fairbanks for dedicating their time and technicalexpertise to the design and maintenance of the nitric oxide delivery system;the Uganda National Council on Science and Technology, the Uganda NationalDrug Authority, and the Data and Safety Monitoring Board for trial oversight.Conroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 10 of 12FundingTrial operating costs were provided by the Sandra Rotman Centre for GlobalHealth. This work was also supported by a kind donation from Kim Kertland,the Tesari Foundation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)MOP-244701, MOP-136813, and MOP-13721 [KCK], Canada Research Chair inMolecular Parasitology [KCK], Canada Research Chair in Infectious Diseasesand Inflammation [WCL], CIHR Clinician-Scientist Training Award [MH], andPost-Doctoral Research Award [ALC, LH]. The funders had no role in studydesign, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, writing of thereport, or decision to submit the article for publication. The researchersare independent from the funders.Availability of data and materialThe datasets during and/or analysed during the current study available fromthe corresponding author on reasonable request.Authors’ contributionsThe study was conceptualized and designed by KCK with input from ALC,MH and WCL. Patient recruitment and data collection were obtained by SN,ROO, MH, ALC, LH, CRM, SS and CM. MH and SN supervised clinical care.ALC, LH, CRM and CM were responsible for randomization of study participants,MHb monitoring, and supervised administration of study gas. Analysis wasperformed by ALC, with input from KH, MH, CCJ, WCL and KCK. ALC, KH, CRMand KCK wrote the manuscript with input from all authors. All authors approvedthe final version and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.Competing interestsDr. Miller is co-founder of Nitric Solutions Inc., and Bovicor Pharmatech Inc.that are developing indications for nitric oxide in human and veterinarymedicine, and Dr. Miller is also an inventor on patents related to nitricoxide administration. The other authors declare that they have nocompeting interests’.Consent for publicationNot applicable.Ethics approval and consent to participateEthical approval was granted from the Uganda National Council for Scienceand Technology and Makerere University Research Ethics Committee inUganda, and the Toronto Academic Health Science Network in Canada.Approval from the Uganda National Drug Authority was provided for theclinical trial. Written, informed consent was provided by the accompanyingparent or primary caregiver for all study subjects. These studies wereconducted according to the Declaration of Helsinki and the ICH guidelineson Good Clinical Practice. A data safety and monitoring board (DSMB) wasconvened and met periodically to review adverse events, and an interimsafety analysis was conducted at the trial midpoint, at which time the DSMBrecommended the trial proceed without modifications. Children wereeligible to enroll in either the prospective fever cohort or the clinical trial.Author details1Depatment of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. 2Sandra A.Rotman Laboratories, Sandra Rotman Centre for Global Health, UniversityHealth Network-Toronto General Hospital, University of Toronto, Toronto,Canada. 3Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, University of Alberta,Edmonton, Canada. 4Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Toronto,Toronto, Canada. 5Department of Pediatrics, Jinja Regional Referral Hospital,Jinja, Uganda. 6Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Mulago Hospital,Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. 7Department of Pediatrics, IndianaUniversity School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA. 8Department ofMedicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA. 9Department ofRespiratory Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia,Vancouver, Canada. 10Tropical Disease Unit, Division of Infectious Diseases,Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. 11MaRSCentre, TMDT, 10th floor 10-351, Toronto, ON M5G1L7, Canada.Received: 12 August 2015 Accepted: 25 October 2016References1. 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Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2014;90(4):605–8.•  We accept pre-submission inquiries •  Our selector tool helps you to find the most relevant journal•  We provide round the clock customer support •  Convenient online submission•  Thorough peer review•  Inclusion in PubMed and all major indexing services •  Maximum visibility for your researchSubmit your manuscript atwww.biomedcentral.com/submitSubmit your next manuscript to BioMed Central and we will help you at every step:Conroy et al. BMC Pediatrics  (2016) 16:177 Page 12 of 12


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