Background: Treatment with high dose vitamin A reduces complications and duration of hospitalization for children with measles. In respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, as with measles, low serum vitamin A concentrations correlate with increased severity of illness.
Methods: To determine whether high dose vitamin A treatment is also effective for treating RSV disease, we conducted a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial among 180 RSV-infected children between 1 month and 6 years of age at three hospitals in Santiago, Chile. Children with nasal washes positive for RSV antigen were given oral vitamin A (50,000 to 200,000 IU of retinyl palmitate, doses according to age; n = 89) or placebo (n = 91) within 2 days of admission.
Results: There was no significant benefit from vitamin A treatment for the overall group in duration of hospitalization, need for supplemental oxygen or time to resolve hypoxemia. For the subgroup of children with significant hypoxemia on admission (room air oxygen saturation level < or = 90%), those given vitamin A had more rapid resolution of tachypnea (P = 0.01) and a shorter duration of hospitalization (5.5 vs. 9.3 days, P = 0.09). No toxicities were seen, including excess vomiting or bulging fontanel.
Conclusions: If vitamin A has a beneficial effect on the course of RSV disease, it may be seen only in more severely ill children.