Relationships between vitamin A, iron status and helminthiasis in Bangladeshi school children

V Persson, F Ahmed, M Gebre-Medhin, T Greiner
Public Health Nutrition 2000, 3 (1): 83-9

OBJECTIVE: To explore the relationships between biochemical indicators of vitamin A and iron status and the intestinal helminths Ascaris lumbricoides and hookworm in primary school children.

SETTING: Two rural governmental schools in northwestern Bangladesh.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional study.

SUBJECTS: The sample consisted of 164 children in grades 3-5.

METHODS: Serum retinol and beta-carotene (by high-performance liquid chromatography, HPLC), haemoglobin (HemoCue), ferritin (enzyme-linked immunoadsorbent assay, ELIZA) and height and weight were measured. Dietary intake of vitamin A was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire and faecal analyses were done using Stoll's egg-count technique.

RESULTS: The mean serum retinol was 26.8 microg dl(-1) and 20% had a level of < 20 microg dl(-1), the cut-off value for low vitamin A status. There was a strong positive association between serum beta-carotene and serum retinol (r = 0.44, P < 0.001), suggesting those with higher retinol levels had a higher carotene intake. Thirty-one per cent were anaemic (Hb < 11.5 g dl(-1)), 30% had iron deficiency (serum ferritin < 12.0 microg l(-1)) and 14% were suffering from iron deficiency anaemia. Children with a serum retinol level of 20 microg dl(-1) had significantly lower ferritin (14.0 compared to 26.0 microg l(-1), P = 0.005) and Hb levels (11.7 compared to 12.4 g dl(-1), P = 0.005) than those with higher levels. The proportion of iron deficiency anaemia was significantly greater among children with hookworm. Our data suggest that hookworm exerts its impact on iron status independently of the vitamin A status of the host.

CONCLUSIONS: Programmes to improve iron status should consider including both vitamin A prevention programmes and deworming.

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