Diarrhea and pneumonia are the leading causes of illness and death in children <5 years of age. Zinc supplementation is effective for treatment of acute diarrhea and can prevent pneumonia. In this trial, we measured the efficacy of zinc when given to children hospitalized and treated with antibiotics for severe pneumonia.
We enrolled 610 children aged 2 to 35 months who presented with severe pneumonia defined by the World Health Organization as cough and/or difficult breathing combined with lower chest indrawing. All children received standard antibiotic treatment and were randomized to receive zinc (10 mg in 2- to 11-month-olds and 20 mg in older children) or placebo daily for up to 14 days. The primary outcome was time to cessation of severe pneumonia.
Zinc recipients recovered marginally faster, but this difference was not statistically significant (hazard ratio = 1.10, 95% CI 0.94–1.30). Similarly, the risk of treatment failure was slightly but not significantly lower in those who received zinc (risk ratio = 0.88 95% CI 0.71–1.10).
Adjunct treatment with zinc reduced the time to cessation of severe pneumonia and the risk of treatment failure only marginally, if at all, in hospitalized children.