Zinc Supplementation

There is strong evidence for the efficacy of therapeutic zinc in improving the prognosis of children being treated for diarrheal disease, and a new WHO/UNI-CEF recommendation is to give supplemental zinc for 10 days as part of the treatment of diarrhea. A pooled analysis of randomized controlled therapeutic zinc trials in children with diarrhea showed that zinc-supplemented children with acute diarrhea had a 15% lower probability of continuing diarrhea on a given day, and in those with persistent diarrhea there was a 24% lower probability. In addition, children with persistent diarrhea had a 42% lower rate of treatment failure or death if zinc supplemented. The WHO/UNICEF recommendation is to give zinc in the form of a tablet for 10 days to all children that are treated for diarrhea. Given that even the current interventions included in child health programs for diarrheal disease treatment, such as oral rehydration therapy, face enormous barriers to achieving and maintaining high levels of coverage, the challenge for achieving high levels of coverage of zinc supplements in the treatment of diarrhea is likely to be considerable. If these efforts are successful, however, then the impact is likely to be great. The most effective way to give preventive zinc supplements is an ongoing research question.

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