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Zinc supplementation for the prevention of acute lower respiratory infection in children

Daniel E Roth, Stephanie A Richard, Robert E Black

International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 39, Issue 3, June 2010, Pages 795–808, Published: 15 February 2010


Background Routine zinc supplementation is a potential intervention for the prevention of acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI) in developing countries. However, discrepant findings from recent randomized trials remain unexplained.

Methods Randomized trials of zinc supplementation in young children in developing countries were identified by a systematic literature review. Trials included in the meta-analysis met specific criteria, including participants <5 years of age, daily/weekly zinc and control supplementation for greater than 3 months, active household surveillance for respiratory morbidity and use of a case definition that included at least one sign of lower respiratory tract illness. ALRI case definitions were classified on the basis of specificity/severity. Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) were pooled by random-effects models. Meta-regression and sub-group analysis were performed to assess potential sources of between-study heterogeneity.

Results Ten trials were eligible for inclusion (n = 49 450 children randomized). Zinc reduced the incidence of ALRI defined by specific clinical criteria [IRR 0.65, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.52–0.82], but had no effect on lower-specificity ALRI case definitions based on caregiver report (IRR 1.01, 95% CI 0.91–1.12) or World Health Organization ‘non-severe pneumonia’ (0.96, 95% CI 0.86–1.08). By meta-regression, the effect of zinc was associated with ALRI case definition, but not with mean baseline age, geographic location, nutritional status or zinc dose.

Conclusions Routine zinc supplementation reduced the incidence of childhood ALRI defined by relatively specific clinical criteria, but the effect was null if lower specificity case definitions were applied. The choice of ALRI case definition may substantially influence inferences from community trials regarding the efficacy of preventive interventions.

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