Journal Article
Meta-Analysis
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
Review
Systematic Review
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Oral vitamin A supplements to prevent acute upper respiratory tract infections in children up to seven years of age.

BACKGROUND: According to global prevalence analysis studies, acute upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) are the most common acute infectious disease in children, especially in preschool children. Acute URTIs lead to an economic burden on families and society. Vitamin A refers to the fat-soluble compound all-trans-retinol and also represents retinol and its active metabolites. Vitamin A interacts with both the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system and improves the host's defences against infections. Correlation studies show that serum retinol deficiency was associated with a higher risk of respiratory tract infections. Therefore, vitamin A supplementation may be important in preventing acute URTIs.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness and safety of vitamin A supplements for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections in children up to seven years of age.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, the Chinese Biomedical Literature Database, and two trial registration platforms to 8 June 2023. We also checked the reference lists of all primary studies and reviewed relevant systematic reviews and trials for additional references. We imposed no language or publication restrictions.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs), which evaluated the role of vitamin A supplementation in the prevention of acute URTIs in children up to seven years of age.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used the standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane.

MAIN RESULTS: We included six studies (27,351 participants). Four studies were RCTs and two were cluster-RCTs. The included studies were all conducted in lower-middle-income countries (two in India, two in South Africa, one in Ecuador, and one in Haiti). Three studies included healthy children who had no vitamin A deficiency, one study included children born to HIV-infected women, one study included low-birthweight neonates, and one study included children in areas with a high local prevalence of malnutrition and xerophthalmia. In two studies, vitamin E was a co-treatment administered in addition to vitamin A. We judged the included studies to be at either a high or unclear risk of bias for random sequence generation, incomplete outcome data, and blinding. Primary outcomes Six studies reported the incidence of acute URTIs during the study period. Five studies reported the number of acute URTIs over a period of time, but there was population heterogeneity and the results were presented in different forms, therefore only three studies were meta-analysed. We are uncertain of the effect of vitamin A supplementation on the number of acute URTIs over two weeks (risk ratio (RR) 1.00, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.92 to 1.09; I2 = 44%; 3 studies, 22,668 participants; low-certainty evidence). Two studies reported the proportion of participants with an acute URTI. We are uncertain of the effect of vitamin A supplementation on the proportion of participants with an acute URTI (2 studies, 15,535 participants; low-certainty evidence). Only one study (116 participants) reported adverse events. No infant in either the placebo or vitamin A group was found to have feeding difficulties (failure to feed or vomiting), a bulging fontanelle, or neurological signs before or after vitamin A administration (very low-certainty evidence). Secondary outcomes Two studies (296 participants) reported the severity of subjective symptoms, presented by the mean duration of acute URTI. Vitamin A may have little to no effect on the mean duration of acute URTI (very low-certainty evidence).

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The evidence for the use of vitamin A supplementation to prevent acute URTI is uncertain, because population, dose and duration of interventions, and outcomes vary between studies. From generally very low- to low-certainty evidence, we found that there may be no benefit in the use of vitamin A supplementation to prevent acute URTI in children up to seven years of age. More RCTs are needed to strengthen the current evidence. Future research should report over longer time frames using validated tools and consistent reporting, and ensure adequate power calculations, to allow for easier synthesis of data. Finally, it is important to assess vitamin A supplementation for preschool children with vitamin A deficiency.

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