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Non-Clinical Medicine - Pediatrics and Child Health - Public Health and Epidemiology

ThermoSpots to Detect Hypothermia in Children with Severe Acute Malnutrition
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Author: Thomas B. Mole et al.

by Thomas B. Mole, Neil Kennedy, Noel Ndoya, Alan Emond


Hypothermia is a risk factor for increased mortality in children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Yet frequent temperature measurement remains unfeasible in under-resourced units in developing countries. ThermoSpot is a continuous temperature monitoring sticker designed originally for neonates. When applied to skin, its liquid crystals are designed to turn black with hypothermia and remain green with normothermia.


To (i) estimate the diagnostic accuracy of ThermoSpots for detecting WHO-defined hypothermia (core temperature <35.5°C or peripheral temperature <35.0°C) in children with SAM and (ii) determine their acceptability amongst mothers.


Children with SAM in a malnutrition unit in Malawi were enrolled during March-July 2010. The sensitivity and specificity of ThermoSpots were calculated by comparing the device colour against ‘gold standard’ rectal temperatures taken on admission and follow up peripheral temperatures taken until discharge. Guardians completed a questionnaire to assess acceptability.


Hypothermia was uncommon amongst the 162 children enrolled. ThermoSpot successfully detected the one rectal temperature and two peripheral temperatures recorded that met the WHO definition of hypothermia. Overall, 3/846 (0.35%) temperature measurements were in the WHO-defined hypothermia range. Interpreting the brown transition colour (between black and green) as hypothermia improved sensitivities. For milder hypothermia definitions, sensitivities declined (<35.4°C, 50.0%; <35.9°C, 39.2%). Specificity was consistently above 94%. From questionnaires, 40/43 (93%) mothers reported they were 90–100% happy with the device overall. Free-text answers revealed themes of “Skin Rashes”, “User-satisfaction” and “Empowerment".


Although hypothermia was uncommon in this study, ThermoSpots successfully detected these episodes in malnourished children and were acceptable to mothers. Research in settings where hypothermia is common is needed to determine performance with certainty. Instructing users to act when the device’s transition colour appears could improve accuracy. If reliable, ThermoSpots may offer simple, acceptable and continuous temperature measurement for high-burden areas and reduce the workload of over-stretched staff.