Background: Iron deficiency (ID) is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in children worldwide and may result in iron deficiency anemia (IDA). The reticulocyte hemoglobin equivalent (Ret-He) provides information about the current availability of iron in erythropoiesis. This study aims to examine the validation of Ret-He as a screening marker for ID and IDA in children.
Methods: Blood samples were retrospectively obtained from medical records. Anemia was defined according to the definition provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) for children. ID was defined by transferrin saturation (TSAT) < 20% and ferritin < 100 ng/mL. Children were classified into four groups: IDA, non-anemia iron deficiency (NAID), control and others.
Results: Out of 970 children, 332 (34.2%) had NAID and 278 (28.7%) presented with IDA. Analysis revealed that Ret-He significantly correlates with ferritin (rho = 0.41; p < 0.001), TSAT (rho = 0.66; p < 0.001) and soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR) (rho = -0.72; p < 0.001). For ROC analysis, the area under the curve (AUC) was 0.771 for Ret-He detecting ID and 0.845 for detecting IDA. The cut-off value for Ret-He to diagnose ID was 33.5 pg (sensitivity 90.7%; specificity 35.8%) and 31.6 pg (sensitivity 90.6%; specificity 50.4%) to diagnose IDA.
Conclusions: The present study demonstrates Ret-He to be a screening marker for ID and IDA in children. Furthermore, Ret-He can be used as a single screening parameter for ID and IDA in children without considering other iron parameters. Economically, the use of Ret-He is highly relevant, as it can save one blood tube per patient and additional costs.
Keywords: anemia; children; iron deficiency; reticulocyte hemoglobin equivalent.