Weekly zinc supplements can reduce deaths in young children


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Giving young children in developing countries a weekly dose of zinc can substantially reduce their risk of illness and death, according to a study published online today (Tuesday August 23, 2005) by THE LANCET.

From 2000 to 2003, pneumonia caused 2 million of 10.6 million deaths among children younger than 5 years worldwide. Diarrhoea causes a further 1.9 million deaths in this group annually. Daily regimens of zinc have been reported to prevent acute lower respiratory tract infection and diarrhoea, and reduce child mortality.

Abdullah Brooks (International Centre for Diarrhoea Disease Research, Dhaka, Bangladesh) and colleagues looked at whether giving children zinc weekly could prevent clinical pneumonia* and diarrhoea in children younger than two years. Between April 1999 and August 2000 the investigators recruited 1621 children aged 2-12 months from Kamalapur, Bangladesh. Half the children were assigned to a weekly 70mg dose of zinc and half to placebo. The investigators found mortality was reduced by 85% in the group assigned zinc. Children younger than 12 months in this group also had less pneumonia and diarrhoea than those on placebo. Children younger than 6 months who took zinc had these benefits and less severe pneumonia.

Dr Brooks states: "Zinc substantially reduced the incidence of pneumonia and other upper and lower respiratory tract disease, and modestly reduced that of diarrhoea. However, the effect of zinc on mortality was strong…Zinc might be progressively protective against more invasive and severe disease, leading to an 85% reduction in overall mortality, primarily owing to pneumonia."

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