Zinc has only modest effect in children with severe pneumonia

March 8, 2012

Zinc supplementation reduces children?s risk of pneumonia, but it has only marginal effect as adjuvant therapy for severe pneumonia in young children, according to a new study. Could there be other factors affecting study results?

Pneumonia remains a major cause of illness and death in young children in developing countries where zinc deficiency is common. Although zinc supplementation has been found to reduce the risk of pneumonia in children, it has not been established whether it is beneficial when given as adjunct therapy to children with severe pneumonia.

An international group of researchers evaluated the efficacy of zinc in 610 children aged 2 to 35 months hospitalized for severe pneumonia. The children received standard antibiotic treatment and were randomized to receive zinc (10 mg in 2- to 11-month-olds and 20 mg in older children) or placebo daily for up to 14 days.

Time to cessation of severe pneumonia (a 24-hour consecutive period of absence of lower chest indrawing, hypoxia, and other danger signs) was somewhat shorter in children treated with zinc, but the difference was not statistically significant. Similarly, the risk of treatment failure (need for a change in antibiotics, development of complications, or admission to the intensive care unit) was slightly but not significantly lower in zinc recipients.

The researchers noted that the fact that all children studied received optimized antibiotic and other therapies for wheezing, hypoxia, nausea, and dehydration must be taken into account when interpreting the findings.

Globally, pneumonia kills more than 1.5 million children aged 5 years and younger each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends immunization against pneumococcus, measles, pertussis, varicella, seasonal influenza, and Haemophilus influenzae type b as the most effective way to prevent childhood pneumonia.

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