Children under age 5 living in sub-Saharan Africa were 54 percent less likely to develop malaria if they had been given a single large dose of vitamin A, new research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests.
The researchers say their findings, published Feb. 3 in the online journal eLife, indicate that vitamin A may protect children against the mosquito-borne malaria parasite, especially if administered under certain conditions, such as during the wet season, when malaria-infected mosquitos are most prevalent.
“More than half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria, and the disease is a leading killer of children in some parts of the world, so we urgently need to find better ways to combat it,” says study leader Maria-Graciela Hollm-Delgado, MSc, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Our research found that children who received vitamin A supplementation were less likely to become infected with malaria. Now we need to test vitamin A in a randomized controlled clinical trial to better understand whether this could really be an effective way to prevent this disease.”
For their research, Hollm-Delgado and her colleagues analyzed national survey data from four sub-Saharan countries (Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Rwanda and Senegal) on more than 6,100 children between the ages of 6 and 59 months. The researchers were looking for possible links between malaria rates and several types of childhood vaccines as well as vitamin A supplementation. Only vitamin A was found to be protective against the disease.
Vitamin A appeared to be more protective under certain circumstances, including when administered during the rainy season, as well as when given to older children and when more time had passed since supplementation.
The researchers aren’t certain why vitamin A would reduce the rate of malaria infection, but they suspect it is because vitamin A, which is known to boost immunity, and improve the ability to fight off infection, may help the body clear out the malaria parasite more quickly.
Read the rest of the Johns Hopkins press release HERE