Giving zinc supplements for all children with diarrhoea has been found to reduce the duration and severity of diarrhoea and the likelihood of subsequent infections for children aged two to three months.
The supplements are given to act as micronutrients essential for protein synthesis, cell growth and differentiation, immune function and intestinal transport of water and electrolytes. However, healthcare workers have been wondering whether there are benefits for young children aged between a month and five months, as well as those who are malnourished.
A study published in the Journal of Global Health shows children who are given zinc treatment spend a shorter time in the hospital when they suffer from diarrhoea.
The researchers — from the Kenyan Clinical Information Network — examined the effectiveness of zinc supplementation for children with diarrhoea admitted to Kenya’s 14 public hospitals with different nutritional and age categories.
The hospitals studied were county hospitals of Kiambu, Busia, Kitale, Embu and Kisumu East. Others were Nyeri, Mama Lucy Kibaki, Mbagathi, Kakamega and Vihiga.
The researchers studied the effect of zinc treatment for children from one to five months old, and six months to five years. They also studied children considered severely, moderately undernourished or well-nourished. They studied 13,191 children. They found for the children on zinc treatment, the hospital stay was reduced in well and undernourished children.
Diarrhoea remains a leading cause of death in Kenya especially in children under five.
Dr John Kiiru, an infectious disease expert from Kenya Medical Research Institute, said the classic sign that one is dealing with cholera — rice water in the diarrhoea — is because of the peeling of the inner linings of the stomach as the body is trying to get rid of the cholera. “The patient loses up to 30 litres in just five hours,” he told HealthyNation. “If they do not make it to the hospital on time, their blood gets so thick that it cannot be transported in the body.”
Without electrolytes, their hearts lose their beat, their organs fail after which they slip into a comma. This is where zinc supplements become crucial.