Respiratory tract infections, including pneumonia, are the biggest killers of children under five years old. But standard antibiotic therapy, given to children with zinc, improved their chances of surviving the infection and was more pronounced in case of HIV-infected children, a study reveals.
In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, 350 children, aged six months to five-years-old, were treated with standard antibiotic therapy at Mulago Hospital, Uganda. Half of them were given zinc and the other half a placebo, the journal journal BMC Medicine reported.
Uganda's Makerere University researchers found that while there was no difference between zinc and placebo in the time it took to recover from the infection, the risk of death between the groups was very different, a university statement said.
Four percent of the children taking zinc died compared to 12 percent without zinc. This means that an extra eight out of 100 children could have been saved by taking zinc. Among the HIV-infected children, this rose to 26 out of every 100.
James Tumwine, professor at Makerere, explained: "Zinc is known to bolster the immune system and zinc deficiency is rife all over the developed and developing world."
"In Uganda, where this study was performed, zinc deficiency in some areas can be as high as 70 percent. We would only need to give 13 of these children with pneumonia zinc on top of their antibiotics to save one life. This equates to about $4 (US) - a small price to pay," concluded James.