LONDON (Reuters) - Zinc supplements could be a simple and safe way to reduce illnesses such as diarrhoea in children infected with HIV, researchers said on Friday.
Zinc is an essential mineral for development and a healthy immune system but there has been concern about the safety of supplements for HIV patients because the virus that causes AIDS also needs it to function and replicate.
But scientists from the United States and South Africa, who studied the effect of the supplements in 96 children, said they are safe for children with HIV, which weakens the immune system and make sufferers more vulnerable to infections and illnesses.
"Zinc supplementation could be a simple and cost-effective intervention to reduce morbidity and mortality in children with HIV infection," said Dr William Moss, of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.
In a study reported in The Lancet medical journal, Moss and doctors from Grey's Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa said the supplements did not produce any adverse effects in the children.
Youngsters who took the supplements for 6 months had less diarrhoea than children who had been given a placebo, or dummy pill.
Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has improved access to antiretroviral drugs in poor countries, Moss said the treatments are not available for many children.
"Consequently more than half of these children die before the age of 3 years, most commonly of respiratory tract infections and diarrhoeal disease," he said.
An estimated 40.3 million people, including about 2.3 million children under 15 years old, are living with HIV, according to the latest figures released by UNAIDS.
The U.N. agency leading the global battle against HIV/AIDS said about 570,000 children died from AIDS in 2005.
Moss and his colleagues said there are few interventions to reduce AIDS deaths in children.
"Programmes to enhance zinc intake in deficient populations with a high prevalence of HIV infection can be implemented without concern for adverse effects on virus replication," Moss added.
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