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Vitamin A deficiency and Measles

The World Health Organization regularly issues a series of “updated position papers on vaccines that have an international impact on public health.” A few weeks ago, in their weekly epidemiological report, WHO issued a revised position paper on measles vaccines.  In the report, vitamin A deficiency was recognized as a factor that increases the risk of developing severe or fatal measles in children under five.  

According to WHO, the measles virus is highly infectious and despite great improvements in measles vaccine coverage, measles is a leading cause of death among young children. In 2007 there were 197,000 measles deaths globally (mostly children under age of five), translating to 540 deaths every day or 22 deaths every hour.* While in industrialized countries, deaths from measles are rare, in developing countries case-fatality rates may reach 5-10% in young children.

The paper, issued on August 28th, 2009, explains that the severity of measles depends often on a number of host and environmental factors. For children under five, the risk of developing severe or fatal measles is increased by overcrowded living situations, immunological disorders such as HIV, and malnourishment (especially vitamin A deficiency). Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) contributes to delayed recovery, as well as post-m complications. Measles infection may also hasten acute VAD and xerophthalmia. As a result of these infections, measles accounts for a large portion of preventable blindness, particularly in Africa.

Providing two high doses of vitamin A is a common means of treating both measles and vitamin A deficiency. According to WHO policy, a high dose of vitamin A is given immediately upon diagnosis. The report notes that vitamin A should be given in all cases of severe measles, even in countries where measles is not usually severe. 

* http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/index.html

Read the full “Measles vaccines: WHO position paper”>>

Find out more about Operation 20/20, a global vitamin A campaign>>

  - Kim Saam
posted in Operation 20/20 | Child health |

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