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August 23, 2005

Zinc Supplements Reduce Pneumonia and Diarrhea in Children

A weekly dose (70 milligrams) of zinc can reduce pneumonia and diarrhea in young children, according to a study authored by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers and published online by The Lancet.

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD, MPH

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD, MPH

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and an assistant scientist in the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health, explained that pneumonia is a leading cause of illness and death among children under age 5, particularly in the developing world.

Brooks and his colleagues gave 1,665 poor, urban Bangladeshi children zinc or placebo orally once a week for 12 months. The group of children who received zinc had significantly fewer cases of pneumonia, as compared to the control group (199 versus 286). The results represent a 17 percent incidence reduction for all pneumonia and a 49 percent reduction in severe pneumonia. The placebo group experienced 10 pneumonia-related deaths; the zinc group had none, representing a 100 percent reduction in pneumonia-related mortality, and an 85 percent reduction in overall mortality for the zinc-supplemented group. The placebo group had over 2,400 cases of diarrhea; the zinc group had 1,881, a small, but significant difference.

The study authors acknowledged that, outside of a study where children received regular visits from research assistants, compliance with weekly doses of zinc may be difficult to maintain. However, compared to expensive pneumonia vaccination programs, the use of zinc supplements warrants further research.

In May 2004, Brooks and Robert Black, MD, professor and chair of the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health, co-authored a The Lancet study that found treating young children with zinc in addition to standard antibiotics greatly reduced the duration of severe pneumonia.

“Effect of weekly zinc supplements on incidence of pneumonia and diarrhea in children younger than 2 years in an urban, low-income population in Bangladesh: randomized controlled trial” was supported by grants from the Johns Hopkins Family Health and Child Survival Cooperative Agreement with U.S. AID, the Swiss Development Corporation and an agreement between U.S. AID and donors to the Center for Health and Population Research.

W. Abdullah Brooks, Mathuram Santosham, Aliya Naheed, Doli Goswami, M. Abdul Wahed, Marie Diener-West, Abu S. G. Faruque and Robert E. Black co-authored the study.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.