Susceptibility to infectious diseases

Infectious diseases have been associated with depletion of vitamin A hepatic reserves (already limited in vitamin A-deficient subjects), reduced serum retinol concentrations, and increased loss of vitamin A in the urine (37). Infection with the measles virus was found to precipitate conjunctival and corneal damage, leading to blindness in children with poor vitamin A status (41). Conversely, vitamin A deficiency can be considered a nutritionally acquired immunodeficiency disease (42). Even children who are only mildly deficient in vitamin A have a higher incidence of respiratory complications and diarrhea, as well as a higher rate of mortality from measles infection compared to children consuming sufficient vitamin A (43). Because vitamin A supplementation may decrease both the severity and incidence of measles complications in developing countries (see Disease Prevention), WHO recommends that children aged at least one year receive 200,000 IU of vitamin A (60 mg RAE) for two consecutive days in addition to standard treatment when they are infected with measles virus and live in areas of vitamin A deficiency (44).

A recent prospective cohort study, conducted in 2,774 Colombian children (ages, 5-12 years old) followed for a median 128 days, also reported an inverse relationship between plasma retinol concentrations and rates of diarrhea with vomiting and cough with fever, the latter being a strong predictor of influenza infection (flu) (45). A review of five randomized, placebo-controlled studies that included 7,528 HIV-positive pregnant or breast-feeding women found no substantial benefit of vitamin A supplementation in reducing the mother-to-child transmission of HIV (46). One early observational study found that HIV-infected women who were vitamin A deficient were three to four times more likely to transmit HIV to their infants (47). Yet, no trial to date has provided any information on potential adverse effects of vitamin A supplementation on mother-to-child HIV transmission (48).

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