Young children with pneumonia should be prescribed zinc supplements to substantially reduce their risk of dying, a study suggests.
Scientists in Uganda, where zinc deficiency is an acute problem, carried out a study on 352 children who had severe pneumonia and were being given antibiotics.
They gave half of the children 10 milligram or 20 milligram zinc supplements, depending on their age, in the study published online in the BMC Medicine journal.
Although the treatment did not speed up the children’s recovery from pneumonia, the death rate was reduced from 12% for the group not taking zinc to 4% for those who did.
Zinc, which is crucial for the immune system and affects many functions of the body, can be found in meat, egg yolks, shellfish and seeds.
Despite this, zinc deficiency is common among populations in both rich and poor countries.
Professor James Tumwine, the study leader, from Kampala’s Makerere University, said: “Zinc is known to bolster the immune system and zinc deficiency is rife all over the developed, and developing, world.”