Antibiotics might help in feeding the hungry

Nicole Ostrow / Bloomberg News /


Antibiotics added to nutritional therapy helped aid recovery and prevent deaths among severely malnourished children, findings that suggest routine use of the drugs should be considered.

Children with severe malnutrition who received amoxicillin had a 25 percent greater recovery rate and a 35 percent lower death rate than those who took a placebo, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Those given the antibiotic cefdinir had a 40 percent better recovery rate and 45 percent reduced death rate.

More than 20 million children worldwide each year suffer from severe acute malnutrition, leading to 1 million deaths each year. While the recovery rate is between 85 percent and 90 percent, adding antibiotics may offer a cost-effective approach to improve health and survival, said study author Indi Trehan.

“Childhood malnutrition remains the biggest, and unfortunately, most under-recognized, health problem in the world,” said Trehan, a clinical fellow in the Department of Pediatrics at Washington University in St. Louis and a visiting lecturer at the University of Malawi, in a Jan. 26 email. “In the end no matter what advances we make in HIV or malaria or diarrhea, malnourished children will always be at the highest risk of death from these diseases. In terms of bang-for-buck, this is where we need to focus the most.”

Malnutrition, defined by the World Health Organization as a very low weight for height and severe wasting, accounts for almost half of all child deaths under the age of 5 worldwide, Trehan said.

Amoxicillin cost about $2.67 per child in the study, while the cefdinir was $7.85.

Antibiotics added to nutritional therapy helped aid recovery and prevent deaths among severely malnourished children, findings that suggest routine use of the drugs should be considered.

Children with severe malnutrition who received amoxicillin had a 25 percent greater recovery rate and a 35 percent lower death rate than those who took a placebo, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Those given the antibiotic cefdinir had a 40 percent better recovery rate and 45 percent reduced death rate.

More than 20 million children worldwide each year suffer from severe acute malnutrition, leading to 1 million deaths each year. While the recovery rate is between 85 percent and 90 percent, adding antibiotics may offer a cost-effective approach to improve health and survival, said study author Indi Trehan.

“Childhood malnutrition remains the biggest, and unfortunately, most under-recognized, health problem in the world,” said Trehan, a clinical fellow in the Department of Pediatrics at Washington University in St. Louis and a visiting lecturer at the University of Malawi, in a Jan. 26 email. “In the end no matter what advances we make in HIV or malaria or diarrhea, malnourished children will always be at the highest risk of death from these diseases. In terms of bang-for-buck, this is where we need to focus the most.”

Malnutrition, defined by the World Health Organization as a very low weight for height and severe wasting, accounts for almost half of all child deaths under the age of 5 worldwide, Trehan said.

Amoxicillin cost about $2.67 per child in the study, while the cefdinir was $7.85.